Drilling sugar beet © Tim Scrivener© Tim Scrivener

A cold March and the current wet spell has delayed drilling and planting for this week’s Crop Watch agronomists, with progress some weeks behind previous years.

Lincolnshire AICC agronomist Sean Sparling highlights that the cold wet and windy conditions of the last few weeks means only about 10% of his sugar beet is in the ground.

“It seems like we’re going back to where we were when I was at college. Back then, you drilled sugar beet in the first week of April into a warm, fine and firm seed-bed…simpler times.”

See also: Spring barley drilling racing ahead on north Norfolk estate

He adds that spring beans are going into reasonable seed-beds where conditions allow, with pre-emergence herbicides following closely.

But pea drilling hasn’t really got underway yet, due to a reluctance to drill them into such cold wet seed-beds.

In the south, Agrii’s Iain Richards says spring barley is drilled-up on all but the heaviest land. “It took quite a bit of work to get the crop into the best conditions, patience being the essential ingredient.

“However, with soil temperatures staying so low, we’ve yet to any see signs of the crop. But most went in well, was effectively rolled and had pre-emergence herbicides where needed. So all it wants now is a little warmth and, dare I say it, a decent drink.”

Tillers needed

AICC agronomist Paul Sweeney is concerned that the loss of leaves and the little new growth to replace it means cereal crops are desperate for more tillers.

“Do everything that you can to promote tillering. That means selecting spray applications that are kind and avoiding any that are harsh. It also means feeding more small doses of nitrogen fertiliser, ensuring that they are never hungry.”

The cold has also resulted in the late drilled wheat mentioned by AICC agronomist Stephen Harrison last month, having barely broken the soil surface. 

“Reports continue to pour in of spring cereal seed-beds which are dry in the top few inches, but like dough further down.” He warns that rolling heavy land in these conditions will leave season long wheel marks.

On lighter soils drilling has proceeded much more favourably. The bulk of the spring bean crop is now in the ground and pre-emergence treatments based on clomazone, linuron and pendimethalin applied.


Finally in potatoes, it’s a mixed picture. John Sarup of Spud Agronomy says in the areas he visits, Cheshire has been going well for the last two weeks, and Yorkshire started just before the Easter weekend.

“Soil conditions have been surprisingly good, however in other areas such as the Borders, the North West and some of the heavier land in Yorkshire, conditions aren’t, particularly where ploughing took place over winter.

“These soils are going to need time and patience if compaction is to be avoided, particularly with rotary bed-tillers.”

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