Although days have lengthened and the rain has dissipated, soils remain very cold and crop development is being held back.  Nevertheless, most fields have been accessible by machinery during the last two to three weeks, allowing first nitrogen and sulphur top dressings to be applied to wheats, barleys and oilseed rape.

Low soil mineral nitrogen levels have resulted in all crops receiving a top dressing in early March.  We’ve been utilising variable rate spreading to help even up canopies with this initial nitrogen application. In addition, we have also been evaluating the success or otherwise of variable seeding rates in winter wheat now that a final assessment of plant population and establishment can be made. 

There is considerable frost lift in some cereal crops, especially on chalk soils and lighter soils where seed was drilled a bit too shallow – the worst areas will be targeted with the rolls.  There is a risk of poor anchorage this year in many crops where root development has been restricted by cold wet conditions and where frost lift has occurred. 

A split PGR program is planned, with the first application at T0 to improve root mass and anchorage.  T0 is unlikely to be applied until the first week of April unless conditions warm up considerably and drive crop development forward.  Most wheats are only in the very early stages of apical development.

Likewise, oilseed rape crops are only just starting to perk up, but stem extension will be rapid once temperatures rise.  Most crops, even where subdued by frost and pigeons, are likely to produce large canopies unless they are managed carefully with a PGR fungicide and don’t receive too much nitrogen. 

All but the few smaller crops will receive a green bud fungicide based on metconazole at which time we will also assess the need for a pollen beetle insecticide.

Spring beans have been drilled and sprayed with pre-emergence herbicide, but soils are still too wet and cold for drilling peas.  We will not force a seedbed for sugar beet either  – instead we are waiting until conditions are suitable. It would be a shame to undo all the good work that the cold winter has done to ploughed land! 

Carefully managed and timely seed-bed cultivations should produce a very good tilth.