Local Agronomy Outlook
Our R&D site coordinators take stock in their area
Brackley report from David McCullagh
Our locality had probably had the wettest autumn on record with 439mm falling between August 1st and December 31st. Many crops of wheat and rape are struggling to survive multiple slug attacks and the effect of water logging. But we should remind ourselves of what has gone before. At Stow Longa photo A shows the position in October 2008 and in photo B the situation in April 2009 delivering a final yield to 2.5 tonnes per ha.
Whilst not record breaking the actual margin generated would compare with a crop of spring barley which would have to bear the costs of seed etc that had been foregone in the establishment of the rape. Added to this would be the on-cost of not providing a first wheat entry for the 2014 crop. Where there are enough plants but the plant is backward there will be a need to get Nitrogen on in good time, at 40kg per ha for wheat and 80kg for rape and also the use of growth promoters such as Nutri-Phite PGA. If the option is to go for a spring crop, then where the ground has suffered structural damage, consideration will be given to the potential harvest date of the crop and the financial contribution that it could make. Picking an early-to harvest crop such as peas or spring barley will leave time to work the ground to help regain some structure. With the later crops of linseed, beans or spring rape this might prove more of challenging.
In terms of out and out profitability then beans are in strong position followed by spring wheat and peas. Spring barley will always carry a low risk and for some provide the straw that may be needed elsewhere on the farm. While the malting premiums are likely to be eroded the underlying price is still strong. Added to this when compared with peas, is that the seed bed would not be as demanding compared with peas. Linseed and rape conclude the options but may not contribute as well financially. In all instances once the decision has been taken to spring crop then it will be important to set the ground up as well as possible by getting it ploughed early to enable whatever frost weathering may be possible. Then patience will be needed to wait for the right conditions to drill rather than risk mauling it in.
Cotswold report from Oliver Fairweather
The Cotswolds crops have suffered as much as anywhere with the weather. Winter Oilseed rape crops went in late on the most part due to a delayed harvest and a large proportion are struggling. Winter cereal crops largely went in late and are behind with many still to drill.
- Managing these crops closely will be key in order to achieve a successful harvest.
- Applying early Nitrogen must be prioritised this year with backwards and later drilled crops first on the list.
- Plants will need providing with trace elements due to poor root structures and cold soils limiting uptake.
- Consider applying aphicides at the first opportunity if you haven’t already, as we have not had the aphid kill this year, and any deter treatments will have run out of steam. Apply with any outstanding residual or Atlantis type mixes.
Finally, it will be key to get on top of weed and disease control early. These crops need as little competition as possible this year. A good fungicide programme will be essential to yield, because we need to maintain green leaf area and there will be less leaf on these plants this year and smaller plants will also lead to a quicker disease spread.
Salisbury report from Thomas Goodman
Fortunately the light soils of the Salisbury area have been more forgiving than most, with only the heaviest ground destined for winter cropping remaining undrilled. Although drilled, many crops went in late and in less than ideal conditions; these backward crops will be the focus of our attention over the next couple of weeks.
With breaks in the weather many will be keen to get on, with the list of jobs beginning to rise; rolling, weed control, fertiliser, spring crop seedbed preparation and early plant growth control, the challenge is which to prioritise?
Many winter wheat seedbeds were left unrolled after drilling, this can reduce soil to root contact limiting nutrient uptake efficiency, especially those on the lightest of land. If conditions allow a good ring roll will be beneficial to crops drilled in after the plough and those on very light, puffy, chalk soils where frost heave may have been an issue. Not to mention hiding some troublesome ‘Wiltshire diamonds’ from the combine.
With thin open crops good weed control will be paramount in order to prevent competition for light and nutrients. Although weed growth to date has been slow, we should expect to see flushes as soil temperatures begin to rise.
The cold, anaerobic conditions of our soils have reduced nitrification of organic nitrogen to a more plant available state. Already crops are beginning to look nitrogen hungry, with a yellow tinge emerging on the lightest ground. Consider early nitrogen to reduce stress and encourage tiller survival before stem extension. As well as nutrition from the bag also consider foliar applied trace elements, plant stimulants and plant growth regulators. To encourage root growth and help maintain tiller numbers.
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