Once again March is proving a month of false dawns. Temperatures of about 17C last weekend and now down to 6-7C. At least the cloud cover is curtailing night frosts and stopping massive day/night temperature fluctuations, which are so stressful to crops.

We are seeing the usual massive variations in crop growth stages. Some wheats in sheltered and fertile sites are approaching GS30. They are currently very leggy and etiolated (pale) and look challenging to keep standing. Nitrogen is being held back and early plant growth regulators (PGR’s) will be required. These crops are not showing leaf 4 yet, so T0 fungicides will be delayed (except, of course, where yellow rust is an issue) and growth regulators applied alone.

Early spring grassweed herbicides have been applied to wheat or will go on imminently. Trying to take out difficult grassweeds at this stage in the game is a bit of a lottery. It could be argued that it is still too cold, however, I believe the risk of poor control is even greater if the weeds are tillering vigorously or into stem extension. To maximise chances of success, nothing will be mixed with the grassweed materials save for a little cleaver herbicide where this weed is a major problem.

Puffy seed-beds are noticeable where autumn rolling was not possible. These will be rolled to ensure good root soil contact. Where possible use lighter tractors and low ground pressure tyres. All too often injudicious rolling can do more harm than good with wheel marks visible all season. Take care with spray intervals where crops are rolled. Ideally you need a 10 day gap between rolling and spraying.

Winter barley is a particularly fetching shade of bright yellow at the moment, testimony to the indications of generally low soil nitrogen supply. Winter barleys have had up to 75 kg/ha of N per hectare and are slowly responding, but there is no rapid growth as yet. There is a little mildew and rhynchosporium kicking around in barley, however, with a dry week in prospect we will not be rushing out with any very early fungicides. With commodity prices where they are, every penny spent on crops this spring must count.

Winter bean crops have come through the winter extremely well. The high spend on propyzamide, pendimethalin and clomazone herbicide mixes appears to have been justified. It looks like all we may have to contend with this spring is late emerging charlock. Looking at the perplexed faces of clients grappling with the online Basic Farm Payment suggests that those who went for the simple approach and picked N-fixing crops for their greening may have made the right choice.

Spring beans have been drilled into good seed-beds. Seed rates continue to increase in line with PGRO guidelines. Pre-emergence herbicides based on pendimethalin, clomazone and linuron have been applied. The earliest sowings are chitting and will soon emerge to face the ravenous hordes of weevil!

Spring barley drilling is so far confined to the lighter, easy working soils.