Although spring cropping isn’t necessarily the most profitable or favoured way to grow crops, allowing a one or two-year break in winter cropping can significantly reduce black-grass weed burden.
Winter crops will normally yield higher, but spring crops will spread workload and help reduce weed numbers significantly, offering long-term gains.
Spring cropping offers the option of controlling black-grass plants prior to crop establishment through stale seedbeds and targeted control of bad patches if required. Spring-sown crops typically see 80% more control of black-grass than in fields that are autumn drilled, due to the fact the vast majority of black-grass plants germinate between August and October.
In cases where spring crops cannot be grown, delayed drilling is recommended. Crops drilled in mid-October rather than September can offer 30% better control of black-grass, and many emerging plants can be destroyed prior to drilling.
While spring crops typically yield lower than winter-sown crops, black-grass is the most threatening weed to crop yield, and in the worst cases, up to 50% of the crop can be lost.
Looked at across the rotation, spring cropping helps reduce weed numbers and supports yield in future seasons, so the yield drop from a spring crop may be less of a concern.
Black-grass control is the biggest agronomic challenge facing most UK arable farmers. If you have black-grass, taking steps to reduce the population is key, while farmers fortunate enough to be free of black-grass need to keep it that way.
Trials can provide a great source for ideas but putting them into practice commercially can be challenging. The Black-grass Task Force project aims to help translate the excellent trials work demonstrating how to control black-grass into field scale practices.
Over the past few seasons a huge amount of added emphasis has been given to using cultural controls as the starting point for black-grass control strategies. And rightly so, as the best way to manage a weed that is the bane of many grower’s lives is to attempt to minimise how much is required to be controlled by herbicides.