Crops are all over the place in terms of growth stage and canopy size this year. The early drilled crops are carrying very large canopies and a lot of foliar disease, whilst some of the later drilled crops are short on biomass and will require nitrogen early to bring them on.

In the wheat crops, septoria has replaced the autumn mildew as the primary cause of concern. In mid-Devon, between 1st Dec and 7th January, we had over 10 inches of rain and very mild weather. This has brought on the septoria with a vengeance. The mildew will still be bubbling in the background and the mild winter, with very little frost, means that brown rust will be of major concern on susceptible varieties.

The forward crops will need careful nitrogen and PGR management if we are not to face a severe lodging year. My main concern is that many growers are keen to get on with quite significant nitrogen applications early, due to the problems last year of poor uptake due to the dry weather. I would urge caution, as 2012 is shaping up to be a very different year to 2011 at the moment.

Winter barleys are all over the place, with some crops looking absolutely superb. However, others are looking very stressed, with waterlogged roots and/or quite severe manganese deficiency showing up, particularly since the short cold spell a fortnight ago. Brown rust, mildew, net blotch and rhynchosporium are all in evidence in most crops. If ever there was a year when winter barley was going to benefit from a T0 and T1 application of fungicide, this is this year. With the vast majority of the acreage planted to either Saffron or KWS Cassia, rhynchosporium is sure to be a continuing problem unless we go back into a long dry spell.

Winter oats are again looking very forward in most instances. The upshot of this is that crown rust can now be found in many crops. If not treated effectively early in the season, this disease could come back to haunt us later in the season. As the biggest robber of yield and quality in the oat crop we ignore these early warnings at our peril.

Most oilseed rape crops are carrying a much larger canopy than in recent seasons, and will therefore need a different approach to Nitrogen inputs than that adopted after the last two winters. A lot of crops will also require fungicide applications with PGR activity at the correct time for maximum growth regulatory activity. Heavy winter rainfall will mean that nutrients such as sulphur and boron may have been washed deeper into the soil profile or leached away altogether. Care will need to be taken to ensure that crops do not become deficient in these two key nutrients.

At the time of writing the spring planting season is just getting underway with some spring bean crops having been planted in the last week. If the drier conditions continue some spring barley will be planted soon on the drier ground.