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Tom Sowerby

How to cope with a difficult cropping season in the north

Article overview

Tom Sowerby assesses what can be done in crops in the north in February after a difficult autumn and winter


Crop Progress

Conditions haven’t improved since the last blog in November. Parts of Yorkshire, especially in the south and north, have been extremely wet, with flooded land common. Up on the Wolds, conditions are slightly better, but it’s still pretty wet.

Where land is in good enough condition, growers were still planting winter wheat in January, but spring barley area is likely to be significantly more than planned in this area, assuming growers can get hold of seed.

Tom’s agronomy tips for February

1. Don’t be too quick to write off wheat

A decent amount of wheat has been planted given the conditions – maybe up to 70% of the intended area, so now it is a case of how much is going to survive and what has rotted in the fields.

It’s still a bit early to tell as I write this in mid-January, but wheat can compensate relatively well during the season. With limited options for spring crops, plus the costs of spraying off, purchasing spring seed if you can, and establishing a new crop, think carefully whether even a thin crop, which with good agronomic advice, may still yield enough to be the better option.,

2. What to do with unplanted wheat land / failed crops

There are probably three main choices for land that is still unplanted. First, if you have a suitable winter wheat variety that can still be planted in February, that could still be an option to consider. But remember, regardless of whether it is sold as a winter variety, if you plant it from 1 February onwards it will be classified as a spring wheat, which has repercussions for how you can use some products, particularly herbicides, so check labels carefully.

Second, there is the option for a spring crop, with spring barley the most obvious choice. Spring barley seed availability is extremely limited and, if you can get hold of some, extremely expensive, so for farms with spring barley still in the shed, barn dipping is the most likely option.

With any home-saved seed I would get it tested for seed-borne diseases and germination before using and treat with a single purpose seed treatment, such as Redigo Pro (prothioconazole + tebuconazole) as necessary.

The final option is to look at the Sustainable Farming Incentive opportunities. Some of the options could be lower risk than planting a spring crop or mauling in wheat in less-than-ideal conditions, while giving a guaranteed income. But do consider the longer-term rotational implications of signing up to a three-year scheme. Option areas can be reduced on an annual basis, but check the fine print carefully to avoid getting into any problems, as well as considering the implications of agreement start dates.

3. Look for grassweed control opportunities in February

There will be a range of situations re grassweed control in wheat, growers will be facing this spring. Some will have drilled and sprayed pre-emergence herbicides, while others might not have been able to get any residual on even earlier drilled crops, let alone the later ones.

Given how wet it is some fields, it might be unlikely much can be sprayed during February, but keep an eye out for an opportunity in case it arises, especially where fields haven’t been sprayed with anything as yet. Earlier weed control in the right conditions can lead to better results.

Most crops with grassweed challenges will need a contact-acting product containing mesosulfuron. Atlantis Star (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron + thiencarbazone), which can be used with a higher 15g/ha dose of mesosulfuron than the 12g/ha maximum in other products in February is a good option.

It’s also worth considering adding a residual herbicide such as Liberator (diflufenican + flufenacet) where further germination could be possible. For some mesosulfuron-containing products but not all, metribuzin-containing product such as Alternator Met or Octavian Met (diflufenican + flufenacet + metribuzin) can also be used.

The metribuzin products have had a label change this season which means instead of a calendar date latest use restriction it is now GS25 of the crop.

If you do consider spraying, avoid spraying on the frost, waterlogged soils or stressed crops, as these products can be a bit hot on the crop in the wrong situation.

4. Keep monitoring oilseed rape for light leaf spot

Oilseed rape is the crop everybody hates, and quite a lot is looking quite thin after the autumn and winter battering.

Most won’t have had an autumn fungicide, so for those crops that are worth persevering with, and like wheat, oilseed rape does have a good ability to compensate in the spring, then it is worth monitoring for light leaf spot during February.

We’re not able to run our SpotCheck service this season, but previous years have shown that February is when light leaf spot usually shows. You can check whether leaves are infected but not showing visual symptoms by taking leaf samples, putting in a plastic bag and incubating somewhere warm for a few days.

Light leaf spot is a disease that is more easily to protect against rather than when symptoms are visually widespread, so, assuming you can travel, consider a Proline (prothioconazole) spray if there are early signs of infection.


We highly recommend:

  • Herbicides

    Atlantis Star

    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

  • Herbicides

    Alternator Met

    Alternator Met is valuable tool for grass weed control in winter barley and winter wheat. Suitable for use at pre-emergence and as a residual top up, it is composed of metribuzin, flufenacet and diflufenican.

  • Herbicides

    Octavian Met

    Octavian Met is a new option for weed control in winter barley and winter wheat.


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