Vicki Brooks Blog - Looking forward to at least a little winter

Company News

January 27, 2016

Vicki Brooks Blog – Looking forward to at least a little winter

We should always be careful what we wish for, but with January fast disappearing a little less rain and a decent cold snap would be really welcome.

Although soil temperatures dropped away in early December, in most cases conditions were far too wet to get propyzamide onto our rape. Temperatures then warmed-up again until some useful frosts in the past week have helped to cool and harden the ground. So it looks like most of our applications will be hard against the end of January cut-off.

A timely dose of winter would be valuable too in managing our more forward rape and cereal crops, as well as checking early mildew and Septoria across much of our wheat.

Well-timed T0s should be quite sufficient to deal with the disease levels we’ve seen so far. Our earlier sown wheats, though, could do with being rather less lush.

Despite the wet season so far, all but our later-drilled crops after potatoes and sugar beet have good deep root systems and look very promising at mid- to late-tillering. Little and often nitrogen will be essential here, while our less forward wheats, with more rooting closer to the surface, could do with an early pick-me-up to balance winter leaching losses. They’re also showing a distinct appetite for micronutrients.

Robust early management of our red-coded fields is continuing to pay dividends in keeping black-grass infestations under control in the sort of wet season the weed loves. However, the exceptionally mild conditions mean we’ve already seen a surprising amount of usually spring germinating weeds – as well as the inevitable charlock and volunteer potatoes. For which some good sharp frosts would be also welcome.

Cover Cropping Value

While there’s still much to learn about cover cropping and its real benefits to soil health and rotational margins, a variety of cover and catch crop mixtures are performing well for us this season; particularly as far as soil structuring is concerned.

Just like my Agrii research colleagues at Stow Longa, we’ve been impressed by the way in which covers of just a few weeks have improved soil conditions ahead of winter wheat
drilling. Fields with longer-term covers are also standing noticeably less wet over winter than cultivated ground. Initially, if this means they’re quicker to warm it could make a valuable difference for our spring crop establishment.

With the possible exception of buckwheat, most of our covers established well from careful September sowing under favourable conditions. Radishes have rooted deeply and grown away strongly. Phacelia and vetches have also developed excellent rooting systems and canopies, as have rye and black oats.

The more we work with cover cropping the more we come to appreciate how essential it is to fine-tune our mixes to what we want to achieve – soil structuring, weed competition or nutrient capture – as well as ground conditions, rotations and season.

The fact that we’ve seen a greater number of slugs under our covers than on the cultivated ground is an obvious concern, although rotational history may also be playing a part. Equally, winter aphid populations appear markedly higher in the covers than in our cereals. If the aphids prefer the covers, then all well and good, but they could be providing a worrying BYDV bridge.

Cover cropping is very much a learning process. It’s one we are approaching with as much caution as enthusiasm in seeking consistent, economic value.