Compared to last year this season, to date, has been easy with crops drilled on time and coming through winter looking good. They are now making a final dash for the tape. The gate is shut on winter barley with final ear wash sprays applied. This in itself was a challenge, with product availability being part of the problem.

On the whole winter barleys look good and will hopefully defy their Cinderella status and yield well. Spring barley crops have established well, although aphid numbers and disease levels are disturbing. Broad-leaved weed control has been completed and the first fungicide is due. Normally I would treat spring barley with the principal of less is more? Namely low fungicide input. Unfortunately this year some early drilled crops have had to receive an enhanced program.

Oilseed rape is also finished now, with the last fungicides applied at the end of April. Rape has been an interesting crop this season, coming out of winter with a large green leaf area index indicating a large reservoir of nitrogen contained in the crop. This led to a downward revision of nitrogen requirements and a program of growth regulators. I would like to think that this was good agronomy, however, I think a dry April may have had more to do with it! Time will tell if we assessed nitrogen rates correctly. Many rape crops were disappointingly uneven and like all crops certainly reflected the damaged soil conditions from two years ago.

Wheat is certainly turning into the crop of the year and not always for all the right reasons! Disease has been of biblical proportions, but not everywhere. Septoria in the early drilled wheats has been excessively difficult to control. In fact, I would go as far as to say not controlled in these instances. The truth of the matter is that we are victims of our own doing. Drilling septoria susceptible varieties in early September with large populations and fertilising early generates the exact conditions for the disease to thrive. Crops drilled in the more conventional slot, post mid-September and with robust programmes show the diseases are under control. Flag leaf programmes have all included SDHI chemistry and will be followed up with a robust ear spray based on triazole chemistry.

The level of grass weed infestation is very high and I reluctantly have to come to the conclusion that our patch of North Yorkshire can no longer be classed as “clean” of problem blackgrass fields. What does that mean? In short, the same pain as everywhere to the south. Grass remains a vital tool in the management of these problem areas providing a clean 3 year break. However, the grass has to pay and I remember the old adage “what’s the best way to lose money? Fast cars, fast women and beef cattle!” Despite the gloom of the grass burden, wheat prospects still look good and with some June sunshine yields could be very good.

Winter beans have received their first chocolate spot spray and will be due another shortly (subject to product availability). I am afraid if there are broad-leaved weeds in the crop now then they are there until harvest! Downy mildew sprays will be due shortly on the spring beans and will be based around cost effective options.