Don’t panic! We could do no better than heed Corporal Jones’s legendary Dad’s Army advice just now.
There are plenty of winter crops still to drill. Those already sown are variable and slow-developing. Many of our soils are in a far from satisfactory state. Temperatures are a good 10oC colder than this time last year. Seed reserves are low. Slugs are rampant. Conditions have seldom been so ripe for early pigeon damage. And I could go on.
So it’s not surprising to hear people talking about mauling-in wheat seed regardless. Or even broadcasting it. Which are about the last things we should consider when we’ve far more to lose by rushing in and making establishment harder for our crops than ever we have by keeping calm and doing all we can to help them.
Let’s remember that in our patch we only begin to see significant winter wheat yield penalties when sowing moves into November. We also know we can get decent performances from sowings right up to Christmas – often at much lower input costs than earlier-drilled crops.
Experience teaches us too that many of the oilseed rapes we’ve all but written off for their thinness and poor development at the turn of the year really surprise us come harvest.
While it’s vital we don’t panic, it’s important we move ahead to prepare decent seed-beds and drill into them wherever and whenever individual field conditions allow.
To do so we’re adopting a flexible field-by-field approach to cultivation using all the equipment available – including the plough when surface moisture prevents top down working, but soils are reasonable enough at depth.
We’re also taking a robust approach to wheat seed rates. Depending on soil type and condition, 350-400 seeds/m2 is our target for October 20 drilling, rising by 25 seeds/m2 each week.
We’re being far more flexible in our residual weed control too. Comprehensive pre-emergences are the order of the day wherever seed-beds permit. But where fields can’t be rolled we’re switching to peri-ems, adjusting our mixes to minimise crop risk.
Slug are coming back with a vengeance, so pellets remain a priority everywhere. All the more so as small, slow-growing crops extend the risk period. We’ve re-treated quite a lot of our oilseed rape, and it’s alarming to see slugs reducing even quite big plants to little more than skeletons in many places. We’re certainly not assuming we’re out of the woods even at the four leaf stage this season.
Phoma is also very much at the forefront of our minds. Thankfully, varieties with strong stem canker resistance give us far more leeway in our spray programmes. Even so, with small, highly vulnerable plants, we’ll be going in the sprayer without delay as soon as thresholds are reached.