Drought seems to be the in topic in both the farming and general media at the moment. Indeed, there are areas of the southwest that are dry, particularly in the east of the region, but in Mid and North Devon the ground is still wet despite a relatively dry fortnight or so. This has brought some difficulties for those trying to produce decent seedbeds for spring crops.

Crops continue to be relatively forward due to the unusually mild winter. Early planted rape crops have GAI’s that are virtually where they should be for the finished canopy and have only just started to receive nitrogen inputs. These forward crops will need less total nitrogen than we have been accustomed to using in recent seasons as the canopy does not need building up. Some crops will only need a top dressing for yield at the start of flowering.

There are, however, some late planted crops where the exact opposite is true. These forward crops will receive a Metconazole application at stem extension in the hope of keeping lodging to a minimum.

Some of the September planted wheat crops are rapidly approaching GS 31 and will receive their T0 fungicide as soon as final leaf 4 starts to emerge. These crops are carrying a lot of biomass and will also have a PGR programme started at the T0 application, as lodging looks like a fairly severe threat this season.

Disease levels are variable at the moment with mildew and Septoria tritici being the mainplayers. There appears to be very little brown rust evident, even in susceptible varieties, despite all the warnings that 2012 was going to be a brown rust year. It is possible that the short cold snap in February has been sufficient to halt the development of this disease.

Thoughts are turning to T1 strategies and there is a lot of debate about the relative merits of using an SDHI fungicide at this timing. Septoria is always a problem for us in the southwest. I shall certainly be looking at the option of using this new group of fungicides at T1 if it will give us even the slightest edge over existing materials in combating this extremely damaging disease.

Winter barley crops continue to move on at a pace and are looking very promising. They are, however, already carrying worrying amounts of rhynchosporium and mildew. Most crops will receive a T0 as well as a T1 fungicide this year. Rhyncho is a great concern, as the lion’s share of the acreage in this region is made up of the feed varieties Saffron and KWS Cassia, both of which have very poor resistance to the disease. Florentine is looking a lot cleaner as would be expected, as is the new variety California

With soil temperatures never having fallen very low this year it may turn out to be an early season for drilling the maize crop. I would urge growers to start monitoring soil temperatures so that they will have an accurate picture of what is happening as we approach the drilling season.