Published on 30th January 2024
5 suggestions for crop agronomy actions in February
Rachel Banks provides some pointers for crop agronomy in February
It’s been a difficult autumn and winter to say the least. I reckon perhaps only 75% of the wheat has been drilled that was intended. Some was still being drilled in January, while other growers have moved onto to planning alternatives.
What’s been drilled is a real mixed bag too. There’s the good stuff that went into relatively good seedbeds, hasn’t been waterlogged and has now caught up with where you’d want it to be, and then others where fields, or parts of, have been sitting under water and it has either rotted or at least is very patchy.
However, the sun has been shining and I have been impressed with the ability of late drilled wheat to emerge and take advantage of the unusually warmer weather. Below is some December drilled WW just after Christmas… (+ Tilly the Labrador).
Rachel’s agronomy tips for February
1. What to do with unplanted areas?
If you’ve either written off fields or never got it planted in the first place, there are probably three main options open to you.
There’s still time to plant winter wheat, depending on variety. Check with agronomists for latest time of sowing as it will vary depending on the variety’s vernalisation requirements. Remember if it is drilled from 1 February, then it will be classified as a spring wheat regardless of whether it is actually a winter variety, and that could have implications for herbicide choices, in particular.
Secondly, you could look at a spring crop – probably spring barley. That will depend on whether you have any seed available – I’m told it’s pretty difficult to source certified seed currently.
If you’re using home-saved seed, then it’s worth getting it tested for germination, vigour and seed-borne diseases. Last season’s spring barley crops weren’t the best, so it is best to check and then treat with a single purpose seed treatment, if necessary.
Lastly, although not necessarily the choice of last resort, you could look at various Sustainable Farming Incentive options. Growers have become comfortable with putting areas into stewardship options in recent years, and the new SFI options means some people are even more open to putting land into it. But it does need to work for your farm, and you need to consider the long-term implications for your rotation and for the wider business, including labour requirements, as these are three-year agreements, albeit with some ability to change annually.
Of course, a temporary cover crop is also an option if planning for a later spring crop such as maize or potatoes, but these have normally been accounted for in the rotations.
2. Weed control options
As with the crops themselves, weed control progress in wheat crops is incredibly varied. There are farms who are all sprayed up all the way through to farms where nothing has been applied.
What doesn’t change is that if you can get in fields to spray when weeds are small, especially difficult grassweeds, they will be more vulnerable. Targeting them early regardless of what you managed in the autumn is a good strategy, albeit you need to make sure the weeds are actively growing to take up contact herbicides.
If weeds are still small, and depending on how much soil is visible, there’s still the option to go back with only a residual herbicide, if you can travel.
But for most growers the weeds will be bigger at this point, and you’ll be looking at going down the contact route. The strongest contact option will be Atlantis Star (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron + thiencarbazone), which will allow you to apply 15g/ha of mesosulfuron from 1 February. Remember that if the weather (finally) turns cold, the weeds need to be actively growing to take in the herbicide, so prolonged cold will reduce its efficacy
Residual options to add into Atlantis Star are limited, but if you want to go this route I would suggest Liberator (diflufenican + flufenacet) which is fully tank mix compatibility tested. In most cases though you’re probably just going with a straight contact herbicide.
3. Clean up stubbles and overwintered cover crops pre-drilling
Ahead of spring planting, whether it is a true overwintered cover crop or just land where you’ve almost had a cover crop because of volunteers and weeds, glyphosate is a good way to get a clean start and be part of your weed control.
Look at what species or weeds you are trying to control and use an appropriate dose.
The Roundup hub has useful information on other factors to be aware of such as soil condition and stewardship guidance.
4. Check for light leaf spot in oilseed rape
Oilseed rape crops will be vulnerable to light leaf spot, which typically starts to show from around now. Look out for symptoms in the field, or if you’re not sure, take some leaf samples, put them in a bag and keep them warm for a couple of days. The increased humidity will increase sporulation and symptoms will become visible more quickly and give you a better idea of what’s in the crop.
If you need to apply a fungicide, then either Proline (prothioconazole) or perhaps Aviator (bixafen + prothioconazole) are options, although many would tend to use Aviator later in the season for Sclerotinia control.
5. Pulse crop weed control
For anyone growing spring field beans or combining peas, a quick note that Emerger (aclonifen) has been approved for use in these crops, but not vining peas.
It is a useful partner for the currently low number of authorised pre-emergence herbicides, and has good activity on fat hen, black bindweed and poppy to mention a few broadleaf weeds, as well as improving control over annual meadow grass and blackgrass.
Pre-emergence only, seedbed quality is important for best efficacy so aim for a fine, firm seedbed. For more information on Emerger supported mixes please contact me.
We highly recommend:
A highly-effective herbicide for control of grass-weeds and broad-leaf weeds in winter wheat. Atlantis Star is a coformulation of three ALS-Inhibitors (HRAC Group 2) with foliar and some root activity
A pre-emergence herbicide for the control of annual broad-leaved weeds in potatoes, with EAMUs enabling pre- and post-emergence use in numerous vegetable crops.