Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Weather turns cropping plans upside down

January 30, 2020 by  
Filed under Crops

A busy spring beckons as growers try catch up with drilling following last year’s wet autumn, says Richard Overthrow.

By now most growers with land still to drill will have resorted to spring cropping, with any last  opportunities for completing autumn sowing now passed –  at least as far as wheat is concerned.

Winter oats can still be sown any time in spring, as can winter barley though in this case crop performance is unlikely to be very inspiring so is not advised. A few heavy land growers have opted for fallow, with the aim of getting a head start on field preparation for next autumn.

Some growers have even declared an intention to use fallow to allow July sowing of oilseed rape next summer, as a means of escaping flea beetle. It is not something we would recommend, but as the saying goes, ‘Let us know how you get on’.

As discussed before, spring drilling can start this month but there’s no problem if it runs into March. As with all these short-season crops, rapid establishment is key and so seedbed conditions should dictate sowing date.

Spring cereal sowing dates have recently moved backwards anyway due to grass weed issues or perhaps cover crop management.

Even if the bulk of drilling doesn’t start until next month, planning and early cultivations may be needed and if good conditions prevail in the next two or three weeks there’s no reason spring cereals and beans shouldn’t be sown.

The first nitrogen applications will also start soon – but no sooner than the last week of this month, with oilseed rape, second wheats and any backward cereal crops getting priority. This first dressing should deliver both nitrogen and sulphur for rape crops and those cereal crops that need it.

Winter barley crops also need prompt treatment as they will readily lose tillers if they try to start growing with inadequate soil nitrogen. Any winter cereals sown from November onwards will also benefit from prompt early treatment.

It is frustrating that each year more crops seem to need priority for first nitrogen doses but we should still try and avoid the temptation of going too soon, before the crop can use it.

If spring cereals are sown this month they should also get some seedbed nitrogen soon after drilling – or at the latest as soon as tramlines can be seen.

Disease levels generally should be checked regularly as fungicide campaigns are put together with cereal fungicide programmes possibly starting next month – T0 in wheat, T1 in barley.

This will not be an easy task. New, premium-priced fungicides are coming on to the market but – in many cases – poor crops don’t justify too much investment. Whatever you plan to use, don’t forget to use up all the chlorothalonil products in store before 20 May.

As early spring arrives consideration should be also given to any late aphid and BYDV control that might be needed. Most growers completed the programme in autumn, and conditions for aphid movement were not good, but a few crops may not have been fully protected to the end of the aphid flight window.

Again, many crops emerged well after aphid flight ceased so won’t have an issue with BYDV.

Broad leaved weed populations in winter cereals should also be assessed. Most of the spring sulfonylurea products can be used from 1 February and these are relatively low cost.

Arylex products, such as Zypar, have a wider application window. These are particularly strong on cleavers which, if the population is significant, should be treated sooner rather than later; otherwise treatment could be delayed until later in the spring.

Flea beetle and late or re-sowing has prevented any large canopies in winter rape. There are exceptions though and for any large crops spring nitrogen management will need to be carefully planned.

But all rape crops need sulphur early in the season so do not delay this. If nitrogen has to be restricted consider reducing the first dose rather than delaying it excessively. Crops hit by cabbage stem flea beetle larvae will also benefit from prompt nitrogen dressing to aid their recovery.

Richard Overthrow is a regional agronomist with NIAB TAG, the UK’s largest independent agronomy organisation with several research centres in the Midlands. For more details, call 01223 342495.

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