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Weed Management

Bayer Crop Science

Early or late – the great drilling debate

Article overview

Drilling winter wheat later is a standard recommendation to control black-grass and Italian ryegrass. In benign autumn weather conditions, it is proven to work. Unfortunately, if like 2023, there is prolonged wet weather from October onwards, the consequences may be poorly established crops and undrilled fields.


Autumn = September, October, November Winter = December, January, February

Situation following autumn 2023

In 2023/24, the total wheat area (winter and spring) has fallen to 1,450,000 according to the AHDB Early-bird survey. For reference, the average wheat area is around 1.8 million hectares and it fell to 1,387,000 after autumn 2019.

DEFRA collect statistics for total wheat area, so the actual reduction in winter wheat area is slightly hidden by an increase in spring wheat planting. However, spring barley is the most common crop for unsown wheat ground, increasing 29% to 881,000 ha this year. Interestingly, arable fallow has become a more popular option with 558,000 hectares which includes farmers taking advantage of agri-environment schemes. Oilseed rape is now just 280,000 hectares, the lowest since 1984, and well below ½ million hectares or more which was standard in the 2000’s and 2010’s.

A secondary factor is that poorer establishment conditions reduce crop yield potential. From the wheat area and yield graph, it is easy to see that that bad autumn weather (2000-01, 2012-13, 2019-20) affects yields as well as area. This is because of poor establishment and also because more lower yielding spring wheat included in the total.


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