July 28, 2017
Vicki Brooks Blog: Learning the lessons of another ‘interesting’ season
Apart from the winter barleys which are being combined as I write in early July, most of our crops are looking very promising as they move rapidly towards harvest.
All our first and the bulk of our second wheats have bounced back well from the dry spring. Plenty of decent sized grains should help to make-up for generally thinner crops. We’ve kept septoria and fusarium well at bay. An inch of rain at the end of June with a welcome return to cooler weather has been just right for grain fill.
The winter rape is being desiccated in far better condition than we feared it would be at the start of the year. Well-branched, well-podded canopies with lots of large seeds are adding to our general feeling of encouragement. As are decent stands of spring barley with little, if any, disease.
By the time you read this, of course, we’ll know whether our guarded optimism on all but the winter barley front has been well-founded. The rape should be safely in the shed. Spring barley on the lighter ground should be going through the combines. And we should be getting our first indications of how the wheat is actually performing.
In the meanwhile, there are several lessons we can learn from coping with a very dry autumn followed by an equally dry spring.
First, top quality micro-nutrition throughout has really helped crops cope with the moisture stress they’ve been under. Our wheats have responded well to timely applications of manganese, magnesium and boron, in particular. These kept them green and healthy to take full advantage of the rain when it eventually came.
Maintaining a robust fungicide programme has been equally important here. We did this because we knew it could rain at any moment. So when it did we weren’t having to chase the sort of disease levels that are clearly evident in the inevitable spray misses.
Despite the very dry weather through to the end of October, sticking with a good pre-em was the right decision too. Where this wasn’t done we’ve had far greater volunteer rape, groundsel and other broadleaved weed as well as black-grass problems. Speaking of which, March and April-germinating black-grass has been very evident – and almost impossible to deal with – this season. Thankfully, it has meant noticeably weaker, less-competitive plants to impact yields. But it will also mean more seed return than we’d like in spite of the generally good early season control we achieved.
This is something we need to be very conscious of as we go into the coming season. All the more so as, in most cases, the seed heads are below the canopy and could easily escape notice.
It just serves to confirm how important it is to learn from Stow Longa and keep up the pressure against a weed as adaptable as black-grass with the full armoury of cultural and chemical weapons at our disposal. I’m pleased to say that, even on ground where it isn’t problematic, I don’t have anyone planning to sow wheat before the end of September and most crops won’t be going in until mid-October.
In complete contrast, earlier sowing will very definitely the order of the day with winter rape, more of which is set to go in this autumn if the current crop fulfils its promise. But this certainly won’t be before mid-August as we’re keen not to replace concerns over flea beetle with problems from cabbage root fly.