After the particularly cold September, the milder-than-average October and November have been just what we needed. It’s been a bit of a struggle for spray days in the past couple of weeks. But the extra soil moisture and continued warmth through November have been a godsend for crop establishment.

The superb, fine and well-firmed mid-October seed-beds we achieved for our deliberately-delayed wheat drillings have delivered in spades. Having eliminated a big flush of blackgrass before drilling, we’ve seen rapid and very even crop emergence, making peri-emergence herbicide timing as easy as I’ve known it. With our pre-ems working well, the flufenacet and pendimethalin follow-ups have gone onto small, decidedly sickly blackgrass plants. Perfect.

In complete contrast, many September-drilled wheats have proved a real headache. Rough seed-beds, uneven emergence and a much tougher blackgrass challenge have put weed control firmly on the back foot. With residuals working far less well, we’ve been forced to beef-up our programme with extra contact activity, which we really don’t have much faith in these days.

Good seed-bed consolidation and first-class crop establishment have also meant far fewer slug problems in our later-drilled wheats, despite the warmth and wetness. While we’ve already had to bolster September-sown Deter-treated crops with a pyrethroid spray to keep above average levels of  BYDV-carrying aphids at bay, if colder conditions arrive before too long our later sowings may well not need this support. Another feather in the cap of winter wheat drilling patience.

Our oilseed rape has really profited from the open autumn too. Even the substantial number of crops the delayed harvest meant we couldn’t get in until mid-September have rewarded our faith, developing strongly to 3-4 leaves. Mind you, we were careful to choose particularly vigorous, fast-developing hybrids here.

Phoma is clearly evident now. But it hasn’t exploded like we might have expected in the warm, wet weather. As we’d planned, strong resistance in our varieties has bought us enough time to combine late autumn phoma control with early light leaf spot protection in a single prothioconazole-based spray, going on as I write.

With rapeseed prices as they are, it would have been ideal to combine the fungicide with our propyzamide for even greater economy. But conditions don’t look like being cold enough for this until at least early December and we’re not prepared to compromise on the timing of either spray for the sake of saving a single pass.

Although the mild weather has also helped them along in recent weeks, cover crops ahead of our much increased area of spring barley haven’t grown nearly as well as previous years. This is almost certainly due to the fact that delayed oilseed rape drilling meant we couldn’t get most in until nearly the end of September – two weeks later than we’d have liked. The extra drilling pressure cover cropping puts on our busiest time of the year is another thing we need to take into account in ensuring it really does give us value for money.