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Ben Giles

How to help crops recover this February following the winter deluge

Article overview

Ben Giles finds some agronomic pearls of wisdom for growers after a difficult winter.

Crop Progress

This autumn ranks in the top three of the worst I’ve known in 25 years – it’s probably in silver medal position behind 2019. I’d estimate that perhaps in the central Midlands we perhaps have 60-70% of a normal wheat area through the ground, and what quality that is compared with normal is another matter.

There’s some wheat on lighter land that’s gone in and has roots down, hasn’t flooded, which will be OK, but plenty more that has sat in water and never dried out which is not very clever.

Some wheat was drilled on the frost in January – who knows whether it will work.

There’s also some worrying levels of cabbage stem flea beetle larvae in oilseed rape in places where we thought it had come through well and didn’t have much adult attack. So, again, it is a wait and see whether it will be one of those years where crops suddenly go brown and disappear backwards. The typical Russian roulette of growing oilseed rape in this part of the world.

Ben’s agronomy tips for February

1. What to do with unplanted areas?

The first question is probably do you have any seed – whether it is spring barley, spring wheat, maize or oats? Unless you have your name on some, it is probably unlikely you will be able to source any, or, if you can, it will cost a small fortune.

That leaves what you have on the farm already. Check winter wheat varieties for latest time of sowing – things like Skyfall are definitely not out of the question – but remember anything drilled after 1 February by CRD definition will be a spring wheat, regardless of whether it was bought as a winter variety. That will restrict how you can use some products, especially herbicides.

It will also be worth testing any home-saved seed for germination, vigour and seed-borne diseases before using, and treating with a single purpose seed treatment as necessary.

The other alternative is to look at Sustainable Farming Incentive options. It’s clearly an option and a lower risk one than perhaps a spring crop not drilled into the best of conditions.

But it has longer-term implications as a three-year agreement, albeit with the chance to change annually, so carefully consider what impact it will have on your business before signing.

2. Should you spray wheat off that’s full of grassweeds?

There are probably some wheat crops in the ground that shouldn’t be, at least in terms of how many grassweeds have emerged. In a normal year, spraying these off would make sense, but I don’t really believe any grower is going to throw away any wheat that is at least through the ground.

I guess there is a belief that with who knows how much of a shortage of wheat in the ground, the price should only go one way, although that’s not necessarily the case. Many will be thinking that a 6t/ha at best winter wheat crop is still going to be better than 7.5t/ha of spring barley drilled in April by the time it’s dried out, with every man and his dog having to grow spring barley this season.

And honestly you can’t blame anyone for thinking like that – you’re playing on the year rather than the rotation.

3. What about weed control then?

There are some fields with fantastic weed control this year. Unfortunately, where that’s happened it’s probably because the residual mixes used were far too heavy for the conditions that happened 48 hours after spraying, and often there is little or zero crop either.

Obviously there are some fields with reasonable control and a crop, and then fields where nothing has gone on and there’s lots of blackgrass as that continued to grow as we know it tolerates wet conditions better than wheat. That means the competition dynamic will be completely in the wrong direction coming into the spring.

Where nothing has been applied on some of the later drilled crops you could go down the route of Octavian Met or Alternator Met (both flufenacet + diflufenican + metribuzin) plus Atlantis OD (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron). There’s still a long way to go on some of those crops and some residual where there might be more emergence is probably needed.

On the more “mature” crops, where you know it’s mainly what’s already there that you need to deal with, that’s when the likes of Atlantis Star (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron + thiencarbazone) with its higher dose of mesosulfuron come into play. But this has a much more limited residual partner list, so check labels carefully, if you want to add a partner.

Both options have their merits, if you have a weather window where you can travel. Earlier in the month with the cold weather we’ve had in January I think Atlantis Star might be a little heavy on the some of the crops, so my preference is probably the OD plus bigger residual option.

4. Can you find light leaf spot in oilseed rape crops?

I did find some light leaf spot in some oilseed rape crops in January, but oilseed rape crops around the cold spell were doing their usual trick of going backwards rapidly, which makes it difficult to spot.

Not much autumn fungicide will have been applied though, which I can understand as it is difficult in many cases to see a consistent yield effect from autumn treatments and we have some decent Phoma and light leaf spot resistance in varieties.

The trouble is that if you do get light leaf spot going before you spray for the first time, which might be at stem extension or even early flowering, you are potentially in trouble. You might not get control back, and all you’ll be able to do is suppress it down.

That makes it worth monitoring for, and spraying something like Proline (prothioconazole), if required.

5. Disease in late drilled wheat crops

Most growers, if they’re thinking about this at all, will be immediately assuming that later drilled crops will have lower disease pressure, and they’re not worth investing in because of the poor condition they’re in.

That’s true for diseases like Septoria, but remember that other pathogens do favour later drilled crops, including yellow rust, according to researchers. So it might not be quite as automatically a low disease pressure year as you might assume.

We highly recommend:

  • Herbicides

    Octavian Met

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

  • 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.

  • Fungicides

    Proline 275

    A triazolinthione fungicide for the control of stem-base, foliar and ear disease in cereals.

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