Vicki Brooks Blog: On-off winter keeps us on our toes

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February 6, 2017

Vicki Brooks Blog: On-off winter keeps us on our toes

Early January and we’ve already had more frosts than most of last winter. This has been hugely welcome both for our established crops and ground ahead of spring planting.  But the fact that the winter hasn’t seemed to know what it’s been doing so far is certainly keeping us on our toes.

One moment the winter barley is looking really sorry for itself after some hard frosts, and the next it has greened-up again well as temperatures rebound.

The cold weather has definitely hit aphid activity. Having said that, there are still plenty of aphids about on warmer days. So if we don’t get some sustained cold we may well need to consider a timely extra pyrethroid as we go into February.

In just the same way, mildew levels have yet to cause us much concern on the barley. But if February is as mild as last year an early fungicide will be important too.

The November rain and some decent frosts have helped break down the worrying cloddy areas in both our earlier and later-sown wheats allowing most to even-up well. While the earlier sowings are just beginning to tiller, the later ones are sitting comfortably at 3-4 true leaves.

Thankfully we’re still seeing far less black-grass than we expected. Some came through with the late rain. Like the later-sown wheat, though, it was slower to get going in cooling soils. At the same time, our robust pre-ems took their toll, leaving just the sort of small, weak and slow-growing weeds we like for post-em spraying.

Our November combinations of pyroxsulam, pendimethalin and flufenacet have worked well. And we’ve even been getting a reasonable kill from Atlantis on ground without much of a history of previous use.

Wherever we’ve yet to see significant resistance, we’ll be prioritising crops yet to have a post-em with early Atlantis well ahead of T0 while the weeds are still small enough.

However, where resistance is a problem we won’t hesitate to spray-off with glyphosate. We haven’t had to do this yet, but if we have any concern over more than a few patches we’ll do so early enough for a replacement spring crop rather than hanging on and hoping for the best. It simply isn’t worth the risk these days.

A reasonably cold start to the winter has meant we now have pigeons in many areas, proving a particular threat to patchy OSR crops that didn’t get enough early moisture and are still struggling at 3-4 leaves. We’re doing everything we can to nurse these through with the concentrated firepower of kites, rope bangers and rockets but some may not make it.

On the positive side, the better grown rape has been slowed-down nicely by the cold and is unlikely to warrant a specialist PGR at stem extension unless the weather turns mild and growth rapidly increases. We’ve yet to see much disease on most of our rapes or wheats either. Again, though, everything could change if we get as little mid-winter cold as last year. Which means we’re keeping our eyes firmly peeled and our options as open as possible.

We’re also looking for a decent amount of frost to help with our cover crop destruction. But, knowing how long even the best quality glyphosates at decent rates take to work on mustard and vetches at this time of the year, we’ll be going in a good four weeks ahead of our planned spring planting to make sure we do a decent job here.