Saturday, March 28, 2020

Vexed season continues to throw up challenges

February 28, 2020 by  
Filed under Crops

Consider the costs and benefits of nurturing crops carefully in a challenging season, says Richard Overthrow.

This season continues to vex us all. Some growers have seen land finally dry up enough to allow some early spring drilling of winter wheat – but were put back to square one after last month’s storms set about flooding fields again.

At present, it is still not possible to say if any agronomy of winter crops is needed, since almost all attempts to establish these have been thwarted. But if you are lucky enough to have an established winter cereal crop, it will be worth looking after in the coming months.

Some pre-Christmas sowings will have already had some nitrogen in an attempt to nurture any tillers that may be produced. Other crops such as winter barley and backward rape crops also needed prompt early treatment so if conditions allowed these may have been treated also.

This month early nitrogen doses on the better crops of wheat and barley, and any winter oat crop, should be completed if possible.

Final splits

Once the first nitrogen doses are finished, the final nitroghen splits can be applied to oilseed rape and it is these doses that may need adjusting, either in response to excessive canopy size (unlikely) or to perceived yield potential.

Second or main nitrogen doses to any winter cereal crop should wait until April, unless urea is used as this can and should be applied sooner.

Toward the end of this month winter wheat and barley fungicide programmes would normally start. Late March can see some T0 sprays going on both, though since most of these crops are later sown these treatments may not be necessary.

The important thing to remember, particularly with wheat, is that late sown crops go through growth stages more quickly so may reach leaf 3 emergence (T1) around the time you would normally expect to apply a T0. It is laborious and difficult for some, but plant dissection to check leaf emergence is going to be very important this season.

This would suggest that fungicide programmes will be cheaper for these crops, and they will be but remember also that late sown wheat tends to suffer early mildew and yellow rust infection so there may be some expenditure required early on, though savings can be made later in the programme.

Growth regulators

Soon chlormequat-based growth regulators will be due on winter cereals, typically applied with a T0 fungicide. Chlormequat is a routine treatment for nearly all winter wheat crops and increasingly so with barley.

In the later sown wheat crops lodging pressure will be much reduced but a chlormequat application is still quite cheap and might help with tiller manipulation and survival. Later sown barley crops tend to grow taller so will be in a higher growth regulator category anyway, starting with chlormequat and/or trinexapac at GS30.

Those who have been forced into more spring cropping may have started planting already and are likely to be happy enough just to achieve this. Spring cereals need at least some of their nitrogen total at or soon after drilling, other treatments such as herbicides and fungicides can wait a while.

As ever, spring linseed and spring rape should wait until next month. With no flea beetle protection available for these they have to establish rapidly in benevolent soil conditions. If pea or spring bean crops have been sown check carefully as they emerge in case weevils move in.

If damage is seen it may be sufficient to hold crops back so a pyrethroid spray should be applied. All spring crops will be prone to attention from birds so again monitor between sowing and emergence.

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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