At the end of last autumn’s series of blogs I hoped for a spell of dry weather to sort things out before the final onset of winter. A lot of literal and metaphorical water has passed under the bridge since then. Sad to relate most of the changes have been for the worse.  We did manage to establish some wheat in the dryish week or so in December.

On kind land this has come away respectably, however, on heavier soils I am not sure if it was a good idea or not. Even with rough seed-beds we have seen capping and small soil particle wash off has filled up pore space in the soil leading to slumped, lifeless seed-beds.  

Of great concern is the number of drowned worms on the soil surface which crows and rooks are now feasting on. Worms play a vital role in soil biology and I hope the population recovery will be rapid once things improve. We need all the drainage, aeration and humus production they can give to turn some of these soils around. Indeed soil recovery will be more than a year’s job in many cases.  Start planning autumn 2013 now and establish which fields will need the most TLC post harvest.

Many fields remain undrilled and trying to plan the best action for these is a real headache. Some are not on soil types where good spring seed-beds can be achieved and we have already decided that rest and recovery is the best option for some. Where possible we will try and drill lower vernalisation wheats such as Claire and Panorama until the end of February.  

It goes without saying that latest sowing date refers to the thermal time needed to establish a reproductive crop, not the ability to prosper in a forced, compacted anaerobic seed-bed. Late crops have smaller root systems than conventional drill timings and poor seed-beds make this worse. I fear the effects on these crops if we have a long dry spell later. Remember the saying: “Be it dry or be it wet, the weather always pays its debt”.

Oilseed rape is a complete mixed bag. There are a few very forward crops, but the majority are around the 4 to 5 leaf stage. Bearing in mind these plants were often only at cotyledon stage by October they have done remarkably well, with long straight roots pushing down to 4-6 inches or more.

Phoma levels are building up again. Unfortunately many of the planned propyzamide plus fungicide sprays were not applied in January. On difficult blackgrass sites we will now have to switch to carbetamide, which can be applied until the end of February. However, no contact graminicide may be tank mixed after the end of January.

I fear we are in for a difficult spring with a lot of taxing decisions to make. Whatever you decide please think of the long and medium term effects, as well as those on the current crop. This applies to resistant weed management, fungicide strategies and of course soil health issues.

“……………….the weather always pays its debt”!!