Published on 30th January 2024
What can be done for Scottish crops after the winter deluge
Grant Reid provides an update on Scottish crops and some thoughts about what to do in February
Progress in Scotland is a real mixed bag. From what I’ve heard the southern half of Scotland is perhaps not looking too bad in terms of getting autumn crops drilled. There is obviously some bad bits, but generally it is not too bad, although most of them won’t have had any herbicide sprays yet.
The far north is also not sitting too badly – it’s the bit in the middle in Angus, bits of Perthshire, some parts of Fife and south Aberdeenshire where there is an awful lot of field work still to do. There’s a lot of stubble fields that still need ploughing as growers haven’t been able to get on the land because it’s been so wet, at least up until the hard frosts in the middle of January.
Grant’s agronomy tips for February
1. Should you write off patchy fields?
There could be some temptation to write off patchy fields of wheat, but I’d urge you to do the maths before taking any decisions. Balance what you could get from a realistic yield of wheat together with growing costs versus the costs of re-sowing with spring barley, including cultivations and other costs, and the possibility of the weather going against you with a spring crop as well.
The other consideration is do you have any seed available? From what I’m hearing there isn’t much, if any, available, and if there is, it is very expensive.
That might leave barn dipping spring barley as the only option. If that’s your choice, get it tested for germination, vigour and seed-borne diseases such as net blotch.
When sampling, make sure you get a representative sample from the whole heap – not just from the first 5m in the barn.
Depending on results, you might need to get it dressed with a single purpose seed treatment. The mobile seed treaters are likely to be extremely busy so the earlier you can make this decision the better.
Where fields are unplanted and you’ve decided to continue with a winter wheat variety, get some advice on latest time of sowing as that will differ depending on the variety’s needs for vernalisation, and remember that anything sown from 1 February is classified by CRD as a spring wheat, which potentially has implications for what pesticides (herbicides and fungicides) you can use.
2. Prioritise weed control
While given the winter weather and field conditions it’s perhaps unlikely that much spraying will be possible in February, it’s worth a) walking fields to assess what weeds are present and to help prioritise spraying when you can go and b) keeping an eye out just in case there’s a weather window which is probably more likely towards the end of the month.
In terms of priority, if you have fields with difficult grassweeds such as black-grass or Italian ryegrass they would be first. If you have bromes, they might need to be left until you can use the maximum 0.5 kg/ha dose of Pacifica Plus (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron + amidosulfuron) from 1 March.
3. Assess oilseed rape leaves for light leaf spot
Oilseed rape crops, like every year, are variable. There’s some decent looking crops. The cold will have slowed some of these down, which is probably good, but there are also some crops which are a bit backward and weren’t as big as perhaps you would have wanted going into winter.
Not all oilseed rape crops will have had an autumn fungicide, and these are probably the priority to assess for disease first this spring.
The easiest way is to pick some leaves, put them in a polythene bag in an airing cupboard or somewhere warm for a couple of days and then assess to see if you can see symptoms of light leaf spot, which typically looks like a cigarette ash effect.
When you can spray an early stem extension spray or before if there’s a lot of light leaf spot kicking around will be vital.
4. Sample soil for clubroot
While there’s a decent amount of soil showing, February is a good month to get ahead with soil sampling ahead of next season’s oilseed rape crops and sample for clubroot, to help with variety choice.
The same applied for potato ground if you’ve not already done it, and for general basic soil analysis. Don’t forget for the latter you can claim for the cost of the soil analysis if you have also completed a carbon audit in the previous three years as part of the Preparing for Sustainable Farming plan introduced by the Scottish government.
5. Look after yourself, neighbours and friends
I’ll just repeat what I said in the last blog: it’s been one of the most difficult autumn and winter periods that I can remember for farmers, so if you’re struggling to cope, please seek expert help and support. There are some great farming charities that you can contact eg RSABI (www.rsabi.org.uk / 0131 472 4166).
And also check in neighbours and friends – pick up the phone or pop round. You never know what support you can provide just over a cup of tea.