Higher crop prices and generally well-bought fertiliser mean nitrogen dressings will stay much as last season’s on our regional representatives’ farms. Fungicide doses are also less likely to be cut.

But with spring far from sprung before the clocks went forward, some growers were concerned that T0 sprays might be delayed and that some early N dressings might have leached.

Although fieldwork had progressed quite well in places, little had been done in the north, especially Northern Ireland.

Nitrogen still highly cost-effective

Tony Reynolds highlighted how arable’s fast-changing economics were influencing decision making.

“Growing more is taking over from growing for less money,” he said.

Having bought nitrogen for £142/t a year ago, he had applied 40kg/ha to all his wheats just before Easter. “But Elizabeth, who does our books, pointed out that we could have sold all our nitrogen and made a profit of £60,000.”

Spraying osr

Andy Barr had purchased his N “well” through CropAdvisors last summer. “It’s still our most cost-effective input, and the price ratios haven’t changed much, so we won’t be cutting back.”

Indeed he was keen to apply the final oilseed rape dressing, to a total of 190kg/ha (152 units/acre), soon to build an adequate canopy in his somewhat backward crops.

Peter Snell obtained most of his N fertiliser at £150/t, but had to pay £250/t for an extra 10t required. So his green waste compost, which meant his mid-February sown Tipple barley needed only 30kg/ha (24 units/acre), was becoming increasingly valuable.

“We’ve used 5000t on this year’s crops,” he said. Including its phosphate and potash it was worth £8800 in the first season, and eventually, when all its nutrients were released, about £48,000, he calculated.

Andrew Blenkiron, another compost user, had acquired all his N for £148/t.

“We’ll trim back marginally on the oilseed rape – from 220kg/ha to 187, partly on our new agronomist Bryce Rham’s recommendation – and because of the compost. But we’ll use the three-drop principle, with 75kg going on late. We tried it last year and it certainly helped the yield and oil content.”

With little storage Chris Moore admitted that when he bought his nitrogen, at £285/t, it seemed expensive. But overall rates would remain unchanged.

“All the wheat and barley has had 125kg/ha of 34.5N, though with March the new February I’m a bit concerned that a lot of it may have washed out.”

Ian Bird, having paid £152/t, said: “We’ll use the same as last year.”

Mike Eagers who had bought “reasonably well because we took it early”, said he might even increase rates slightly.

But James Wray, faced with thin water-logged crops and unable to get on the land, said it was hard to plan his N strategy whatever the cost.

“Fertiliser prices may have increased at a crazy rate, but if a crop is worth growing, it’s worth growing well. I’d like to think we could reach maximum yields without holding back because of the price.”

T-zero treatments the norm

Most Barometer growers intended to apply T0 wheat fungicide treatments as useful insurance. And as with nitrogen few anticipated trying to over-economise.

Indeed the consensus was that better crop prices would give them more flexibility with overall doses and product choices. The main question was whether the catchy weather would allow the first sprays to go on soon enough.

Andy Barr considered his Timber clean enough to omit a T0. But with Humber showing mildew and Cordiale septoria and signs of rust he planned a Bravo (chlorothalonil) + Talius (proquinazid) mix for the former and 1litre/ha of Cherokee (chlorothalonil + cyproconazole + propiconazole) for the latter.

“We’re just waiting for the weather,” he said. “They’re all just about at GS30.”

Tony Reynolds also intended using Cherokee, but felt 0.75litres/ha was enough to take care of low mildew levels and any rust in his wheats, of which Ambrosia and Humber appeared most promising.

“We keep looking for rust in our Alchemy but can’t find any.”

Peter Snell

But Peter Snell’s Alchemy already had brown rust and would get the same dose of Cherokee this week, he hoped.

“The Bravo in it is good value and the older triazoles help against rust.”

With half his wheat Alchemy and Cordiale “not the cleanest of varieties” Chris Moore considered a T0 a “no-brainer”.

“We’re quite flexible on what we use and I rely on Steve Portas, our agronomist, for advice. In general it’s been cheap and cheerful, but now we might spend a bit more.”

In the past the only T0 Andrew Blenkiron applied was Unix (cyprodinil) against eyespot on mid-August sown Claire.

“But we didn’t drill it until the last week last year, so we probably won’t use Unix this time.”

Under his new agronomist regime, a T0 of Bravo (chlorothalonil) and Mirage (prochloraz) at relatively low rates, plus Axial (pinoxaden) against wild oats, was the aim across all varieties.

Ian Bird was again planning T0 sprays for his wheats, hoping that the weather which frustrated attempts to complete them in both previous years since he adopted them would be kinder.

“They’ve tended to run into the T1s.”

Mike Eagers admitted last year’s over-wintering yellow rust was a surprise, and though the disease remained absent, he was taking no chances.

“A T0 is normal for us and Agrovista‘s Jonathan Cahalin has recommended Ceando (epoxiconazole + metrafenone). But there really isn’t enough leaf yet to take it.”

Given his particularly backward crops James Wray was reluctant to speculate on his fungicide programme.

“The only plan I have, if the rain ever stops, is for Moddus [growth regulator] along with nitrogen to encourage tillering.”

Barometer map