21 November 2006

Andrew Riddell AICC, East Lothian
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Andrew RiddellFinally winter is finally upon us. We have had some recent frost and even a light touch of snow on the hills.

Most spraying should now be finished; there have been a greater number of good weather opportunities than usual.

Many early-sown crops are carrying disease, especially mildew, but levels are not of immediate concern. Root systems are good which will be the foundation of success for next season.

Now is a good time to catch up with important paper work in the office. The basic elements of the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone Fertiliser and Manure Plan should be prepared prior to the new NVZ year starting on 19 December. It is also a good time to re-visit your Crop Protection Management Plan.

Decisions on set-aside land use should be considered. Natural regeneration is the option least beneficial to your soil. Industrial contracts are available for oilseed rape and winter wheat. If you want a green cover crop phacelia, with its vigorous rooting, leaves soil ideal for non-inversion tillage into wheat.

Keep an eye on crops in store. November weather is great for pulling the temperature of those crops down into single figures.

Those growers remaining loyal to quality malting barley should be reviewing their growing results. On lighter soils in northeast Scotland, barley is drilled with fertiliser – a practise that has been forgotten in the Lothians. The acidification effect coupled with the immediately available phosphate will show clear benefits in most soils.

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14 November 2006

Robert Sullivan – Strutt and Parker, Northumberland
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Robert sullivanThe last few fields after potatoes are just about sown, with the vast majority of the countryside looking well, almost too well.

Oilseed rape growth has slowed as the weather cools down, with most crops now having received a fungicide (+/- a graminicide).

For most crops, disease control appears to have been good and at the moment I would not expect to need a second spray prior to Christmas. Kerb (propyzamide) is starting to be applied with the hope that the temperatures will continue to fall.

Most Wheat and Barley crops have been sprayed with an autumn herbicide/ insecticide mix. Scorch is common on many barley crops, especially those where reasonable rates of IPU (isoproturon) were used.

Pendimethalin-based sprays have scorched the crop, but to a much lesser extent. Where herbicides are still to be applied I would try and limit the amount of IPU in the mix relying more on pendimethalin +/- some contact herbicides where necessary.

Disease levels are much higher than normal, which is not surprising given the mild weather until recently. Mildew is common on wheat (especially Claire, Solstice and Alchemy), whilst Net Blotch can easily be found in Pearl.

Nothing so far is likely to warrant treatment given the size of the crop and the fact we have started to get the odd frost. Backward crops are more vulnerable, but these do not have the crop cover to encourage the disease initially.

If you have not had any soil analyses done recently now is the time to get out and gather some samples.

A number of farmers have taken several “PK holidays” in recent years due to the poor financial returns. As a result soil reserves will have dropped with some possibly dangerously low. Knowing where you are is essential for future planning.

Where PK has only recently been applied, wait until post-Christmas before soil sampling to ensure you get a realistic result.

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7 November 2006

Patrick Stephenson – Association of Independent Crop Consultants, North Yorkshire
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Patrick StephensonAt long last the weather has changed and the first frosts have arrived. This is a blessing for stopping crop growth on the early drilled crops.

However, this brings into play frost and spraying – always a delicate balance between crop damage and essential weed control.

Surplus crop growth is a serious problem on many fields and a few thousand sheep roaming over North Yorkshire would do the world of good!

As this is extremely unlikely, I am already locking the sheds that contain fertilizer and throwing away the key in the vain attempt to stop early nitrogen applications.

On an agronomic front we will have to look at early growth regulators and in the case of oilseed rape fungicides, those with growth regulatory activity.

The most common question I get asked is what will happen to these forward crops?

Unfortunately the weather will dictate whether those crops that have already lodged will have some plant death. Very soft, tall crops will suffer some plant death if heavy snow falls arrive without a hard cold snap. In other words it is up to Michael Fish!

Every effort will be made to apply Atlantis (mesosulfuron-methyl + iodosulfuron-methyl-sodium) in the autumn on the crops with blackgrass and despite four inches of rain in October most of the land is not at field capacity.

Cold weather should halt disease developments and rid the crops of older leaves.

Early applied herbicides have worked well keeping crops clean, however early-drilled crops which have not received an early treatment have triffid-like weeds and I fear additional spring treatments will be required.

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30 October 2006

David Cairns – McCreath, Simpson & Prentice, Berwick-upon-Tweed
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David Cairns 100x100All but a very small amount of winter cropping has now been sown and on the whole is well emerged and actively growing.

However, because of the mild conditions crop growth has been very rapid and a lot of crops are carrying quite high levels of disease – particularly net blotch and mildew in winter barley.

Hopefully shorter day length and falling temperatures will slow crop growth and disease incidence. But, the high levels of inoculum means growers will need to do a tidy up fungicide (T0) spray in the spring.

Weed control has progressed well and seems to be achieving good results. Growers should probably now be swinging away from pendimethalin-based products to using DFF (diflufenican)/ IPU (isoproturon) formulations as weeds are well emerged.

Despite falling temperatures, aphid pressure is still high and an insecticide should still be included in the mix. Crops already sprayed or those that have been relying on Deter (clothianidin) dressings should be monitored for aphids and sprayed if necessary.

Oilseed rape is very forward although I think the time has passed for fungicides to have growth regulatory effect. The main target in my area is light leaf spot and an application of flusilazole or prothioconazole should be applied as soon as possible.

Because crops are so forward this year and there is massive yield potential, crop management is going to be completely different to previous years and all growers should be speaking to their agronomist to formulate plans for the spring so this potential is maximised.

As this is my last report before the winter break I hope that when I return in the spring things are still as optimistic with crops still looking as well and markets buoyant. As I said in my first report the corner has definitely turned.

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23 October 2006

Andrew Riddell – AICC, East Lothian
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Andrew RiddellWet weather is beginning to hamper field operations and lifting the last few hectares of potatoes has been tricky on some sites. The potatoes are relatively clean but soil damage is high, making it very difficult to get wheat sown behind. Potato yields have been very good, with the only problem being a shortage of boxes.

Wheat is still emerging very quickly with fields up in 10-12 days. Such good growth has reduced the impact of slugs.

Herbicides have been applied to the earlier sowings, along with a BYDV spray. Recently emerged crops will still benefit from a residual herbicide for both grass and broad-leaved weed control. Where IPU is being planned, remember that the maximum application is 1500g.

With the warm autumn, oilseed rape crops are looking well. Now is the time to apply a protectant fungicide for light leaf spot control. Check where the growing point is on thick, early sown crops, as this should remain as close to the ground as possible. Where extended hypocotyls are found, the crop is more likely to be affected by pigeon grazing and is prone to lodging before harvest. In such situations, use metconazole + prothioconazole.

Where growth regulation is not required, prothioconazole will give the best return from this spray timing.

Damage from winter stem weevil has become more of a problem in recent years. The weevil grubs feed in the stems and plant crown during the winter causing damage to the growing point. Control the adult weevil now, before it lays its eggs. A pyrethroid insecticide should be mixed with the light leaf spot spray where a problem is expected.

While in oilseed rape crops, check for late emerging volunteer cereals and add a graminicide, if required.
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16 October 2006

Robert Sullivan – Strutt and Parker, Northumberland
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Robert sullivanWe are now in the final lap with only wheat after potatoes and some second wheats still to be sown. The catchy weather has not helped, resulting in a number of fields taking several attempts to complete.

Oilseed rape continues to grow strongly with many forward crops now at 6-8 large leaves. Phoma and, to a lesser extent light leaf spot, is becoming evident, with fungicides (+/- a graminicide) starting to be applied at varying rates depending how much growth regulatory activity is required.

Where crops did not receive a pre or early post-emergence herbicide, propyzamide appears to be the favoured option, although given the mild weather, most applications will be delayed a while longer.

Early-sown wheat and barley crops have started tillering and aphids can easily be found. While the crop growth is still somewhat lush on these early crops, a pyrethroid spray is needed for BYDV control.

Most are taking the opportunity to tank mix pyrethroids with an autumn herbicide, as often there is only one chance to get across the land before ground conditions deteriorate. In general a spray based around pendimethalin has been preferred to try and limit the risk of scorch. Only time will tell how successful this has been.

The majority of the recently drilled crops remain unrolled and as a result are vulnerable to slugs. In general, other than the odd “hot spot”, activity has been less than was feared. Continued monitoring is required a while longer for those crops not yet or only recently emerged.

For those intending to grow winter beans, the decision as always is when to sow. Too soon and the crop emerges too quickly and becomes winter proud, too late and the ground conditions have deteriorated resulting in “wet feet” and poor establishment.

As a result I would always lean towards sowing earlier and take the chance with the time of emergence.

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10 October 2006

Patrick Stephenson – AICC (North Yorkshire)
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Patrick StephensonCereal Crops are emerging rapidly and tillering well. The first autumn residuals have been applied based around pendimethalin. These have led to some discoloration despite rates set very low. Higher IPU rates will not be applied until night temperatures drop. Lush winter barley will be the most vulnerable and will need to be carefully monitored.

Keep an eagle eye out for cereal pests as I have already treated some wheat following rape for frit fly damage. Remember slug numbers are likely to peak later this month, often coinciding with soil temperatures falling as autumn arrives.

What does this mean?  Early cereals have benefited from warm moist firm seed-beds and have outgrown any major slug grazing. This will not be the case for later sowings where seed-beds will be loose, wetter and more prone to damage. Fields with a history of damage are not miraculously cured by time!

Oil seed rape is well advanced and so are the phoma lesions. If ever a disease could do with taking to the headmaster’s office it is phoma. Good science provides us with thresholds and treatment times but it has a touch of the lottery about it when it comes to yield response. Alas this year’s early infection and continuing favorable conditions mean high risk and treatment advised on most crops followed by a trip down to the corner shop for that lottery ticket.

Nearly all potatoes are now burnt off and reports indicate average yields but continuing wet weather is pressurising lifting.

It is a sad time for the beet growers as contracts are signed to sell quota and the final crops are being lifted on many farms. Despite the horrible May yields look good and it will be nice to leave on a high.

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3 October 2006

David Cairns – McCreath, Simpson & Prentice, Northumberland
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David Cairns 100x100Things just get better every month as wheat values have risen, again on back of Australia forecasting a reduced tonnage.

Drilling is progressing at an alarming rate into superb seedbeds and with seed having excellent germination and vigour, crops are emerging rapidly and evenly. I already have winter barley crops with one tiller.

Slugs are still very active in crops particularly following oilseed rape and growers should be vigilant and perhaps consider using methiocarb or thiodicarb pellets for persistency.

Because of the even and rapid emergence there is an excellent opportunity for autumn weed control, in my area broadleaved weeds and annual meadow grass are the main targets with brome and small pockets of blackgrass in some areas.

I am noticing a lot of growers wanting to reduce their reliance on IPU and early applications are being based on pendimethalin products.

Mild conditions mean there is a huge aphid pressure so hopefully the Deter (clothianidin)/ Secur dressings will prove their worth. Also, a persistent insecticide should be used with weed control – I am basing recommendations around tau-fluvalinate because of a better environmental profile.

As long as conditions allow there is an excellent opportunity to apply P + K to cereals. As I stated last month it is another job not to do in a busy spring.

Oilseed rape crops are growing very rapidly and will look at light leaf spot control next month. With the excellent autumn conditions the immediate challenge is to ensure that ground is available for spring barley in our area and good malting contracts are being offered for future supply.

Next month when I write all drilling, weed and aphid control will be complete, fertiliser applied and spring cropping will be planned so agronomists will be able to go into winter hibernation!

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25 September 2006

Andrew Riddell – AICC, East Lothian
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Andrew RiddellWinter cereal drilling is well advanced and potato harvest is in full swing. With plenty of moisture and recent mild temperatures, those early drilled crops are emerging well.

Plan your herbicide treatments now and apply at the 1-2 leaf stage of the crop. Where brome is anticipated, consider a pre-emergence treatment with a flufenacet-based product.

With the problems of IPU and watercourse contamination, flufenacet products are an excellent alternative, giving much superior control of annual meadow grass, rough stalked meadow grass and bent grasses.

Keep a close eye on emerging cereals for aphids – with the current mild weather, they’ll invade emerging crops.

Slug activity also needs monitoring where previous cropping and seedbed conditions dictate.

It is interesting to note the speed with which malting and distilling contracts for harvest 2007 are being thrust upon farmers before they’ve been paid for the 2006 crop. Malting barley is now a scarce commodity, with prices having risen considerably since harvest – many are offering £100/t for fairly average quality.

Those growers considering wheat on less suitable sites should perhaps be reviewing their spring barley margins. Many basic skills have been forgotten in the agronomy of spring barley.

Emerging oilseed rape looks very well, with forward crops having up to six leaves. Later-sown crops with less than two leaves are very vulnerable to slug damage, so be vigilant. Later sowings are also more prone to weed competition, so early removal of volunteers is essential.

P.S. Potato growers are now flat out and don’t want any more rain!

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19 September 2006

Robert Sullivan, Strutt & Parker (Northumberland)
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Robert sullivanOften September is a nice open month allowing a mammoth amount of work to get done, however as I write this, thunder and lightening are crashing around and the rain is coming down in torrents.

After all that, knowing farmers around, here drilling won’t be stopped for too long.

Oilseed rape continues to grow away strongly with most farmers having applied their pre or more likely early post-emergence herbicides. Often these have been mixed with an early graminicide for the initial flush of volunteers.

So far slugs are also noticeable by their absence, with most slug traps remaining empty. But we’re not out of the woods yet and with the increase in the soil moisture levels slug activity is bound to increase.

Whether this will require any action is unclear given the firm fine seedbeds that have been created to date. Continued vigilance is required a while longer especially on those more vulnerable spots.

Wheat sowing is in full swing with many crops having chitted after three days and starting to emerge around 7-10 days after drilling.

Seed rates in general never get close to those in the south with around 250 seeds/m2 being commonplace for first wheats. Certainly I wound not be happy sowing Alchemy at less than that on last year’s experiences.

One area of concern is the amount of second wheat that has already gone in the ground, even allowing for the fact it has received a take-all seed dressing.

I know conditions are good, and seed beds are excellent but even so drilling this early will inevitably lead to problems next year. If possible try and delay as long as possible – as close to October as your nerve will allow!

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12 September 2006

Patrick Stephenson – AICC (North Yorkshire)
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Patrick StephensonAt long last the sun has decided to shine and the traditional monsoon month of August is over!

As harvest, at long last, finishes a question likely to get you a thick ear is asking a farmer how his spring crops did! A wet April dry June and appalling harvest amount to yields more representative of the prairies than the UK. Winter crops on the other hand have done reasonably well.

The loss of sugar beet to the area is causing a major change in cropping. To my knowledge no sugar beet will be grown to the north of York. This has been replaced, in most instances, by oil seed rape.

The good news is that rape has gone into moist good seedbeds and has often chitted within three days. This has minimized slug damage but not eliminated it and slug pellets are being applied to vulnerable crops.

The negative side to rapid germination is the problems of getting pre-emergence sprays applied. The effectiveness of these products is greatly reduced if applied post-emergence and I have already contacted the tourist board to inform them of the beautiful poppies that will be appearing in North Yorkshire next year.

In my opinion the last safe date for sowing oilseed rape is the 10 September. This usually stimulates a lot of discussion as I get lectured to by my clients about the best crop they ever had was sown on a date after this!

First wheat’s are already being drilled, with Claire being the most common. Although not performing particularly well this year, it still has a role in this early drilling slot.

We have abandoned ridiculously low seed rates, despite the sound science, the reality is that establishment has many variables most of which we have little or no control. Ensuring there is sufficient seed is one we can control.

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5 September 2006

David Cairns – McCreath Simpson & Prentice (Northumberland)
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David Cairns 100x100Well what a time I have chosen to start writing this article. Harvest has progressed relatively easily, and with most crops safely in the shed and higher commodity prices, hopefully the corner has been turned.

Now the attention is turning to drilling with a bit more optimism this autumn. An increased area of oilseed rape has been planted into excellent seedbeds and an even germination has been achieved in less than a week.

Lioness is taking the lion’s share of the area this year due to a more consistent harvest in 2006.

If pre-emergence herbicides have not been applied, post emergence should be sprayed at cotyledon stage in conjunction with a graminicide ASAP as weeds are going through growth stages quickly. Also keep a watch on slug populations as there is an ideal feeding ground for them.

Early wheat plantings are starting, once again into ideal seedbeds. For the min-till enthusiasts, stale seedbeds have produced an excellent flush, so there is an ideal chance to reduce volunteer and brome populations.

Alchemy and Robigus are popular varieties, but with high slug populations and low seed rates, consider using a slug deterrent dressing.

I am again seeing an increasing winter barley area – partly because of a larger oilseed rape area but also with good performances over the last couple of seasons and good malting contracts available.

The Scottish Executive has issued a new guideline for winter barley, allowing the use of autumn nitrogen on light soils and in a minimum tillage situation.

Soil management plans must be completed and it is an ideal time to get a soil analysis done and plan any lime, phosphate and potash applications. I still believe that autumn P, K dressings are good practice as the nutrients are available for the crop when required and it is one less job to do in a busy spring.

By the time of my next report hopefully drilling will have progressed as well as harvest did, but remember to watch out for slugs!

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View previous Crop Watch reports for Scotland and the north:
Spring/ summer 2006
Autumn/ winter 2005
Spring/ summer 2005