I wonder if I dare put the metaphorical black cap away for this spring?  It has certainly been a year for condemning thousands of acres of miserable crops to an early end.  Experience is the sum of our mistakes, it is said. 

In our industry much experience is fashioned by the weather.  I sincerely hope that experience gained this growing season will never have to be used again.  I have a nagging doubt that some of the crops which were reprieved have as much chance of survival as a wretched medieval prisoner. 

If we take one lesson forward from this year it has to be “if you are in any doubt at all about drilling very late cereal crops in poor conditions don’t bother!”

Oilseed rape is a sad story with only a handful of crops approaching flowering and some looking as if they may never flower at all. The threatened Pollen Beetle epidemic never arrived.  Temperatures were rarely sustained at the critical 15C.  I treated very few crops at the end of the day. 

 As an industry we have to be seen as whiter than white in our use of insecticides with the current situation regarding neonicotinoids.  The irresponsible and wasteful practise of putting an insecticide in the tank just because we are going through must be stamped out. Rugby refs give the order “Use it or lose it”.  The order for insecticides must be “use them responsibly or lose them”.

Now for the good news. Spring crops have established very well.  Even those which sat in the ground for five weeks before emerging are moving on while later drillings are romping away.

Winter wheat has picked up nitrogen and is anywhere from late tillering to GS 31.  The most advanced emerged leaf on forward crops is generally leaf 4.  We are waiting to see if later sowings skip a leaf in their race to maturity.  

Temperatures have remained cool (meaning septoria latent periods are protracted), little or no rust is evident, therefore, we have applied very few T0 treatments.  Spraying will commence when final leaf 3 is emerging which for the bulk of crops will be 3-5 May at the earliest. This is not a normal season and programmes need to be adjusted accordingly. 

Bare ground between wheat plants has lead to a profusion of poygnums.  Breaking apart lumps of soil reveal many more still to emerge, therefore, we will hold off with our herbicide until T1.  Metsulfuron CMPP mixes will figure strongly. 

Cleavers have been hit hard by mesosulfuron  plus iodosulfuron based graminicides. With a further headache from the broad leaved spray, they should be contained sufficiently to allow good control from a GS 39 dose of straight fluroxypyr.  Stress is building up among spray operators regarding sequencing and tank washing.

Winter barley is at least three weeks behind its normal growth stage.  Down here we often see an awn or two at the end of April.  This year it is only just receiving its first fungicide based on prothioconazole and bixafen coformulations. 

Essentially we lost a month’s worth of growth between mid March and mid April.  Growth regulator use has been minimal.  If we get strong compensatory growth we may use something towards flag leaf emergence. 

England’s (and Scotland, Wales and Irelands!) green and pleasant land is gradually returning.  Let’s hope that May is indeed a merry, merry month.