31 May 1996

Crops hit by cold, dry May

Recent rains have been welcome on farmers weeklys four southern barometer farms. But a bit more warmth would have improved matters in all four regions, as Andrew Blake discovers

FROST right up to mid-May has been the most striking feature for David Price at Barland Farm, Evenjobb, Presteigne, Powys.

Combined with biting winds the cold hit his winter barley hard and led to fears of blind grain sites as yet unconfirmed. "Its looking ginger and really backward," he comments.

Spring rape on set-aside was very slow to come away. "The latest rain has helped, but there is quite a bit of weed in the wet patches." The only realistic herbicide option – Benazalox (benazolin + clopyralid) – is too expensive to justify on the industrial crop, he says. "Well just have to wait and see if there is a yield penalty at harvest."

Little disease has been showing in the wheats which so far have received just 0.5 litres/ha (0.35pt/acre) of Sportak Alpha (cyproconazole + prochloraz) towards the end of April. "But I am well aware that there could be an explosion, and we are due to go round again in early June – probably at late flag leaf."

Mr Price hopes to make do with just two fungicide treatments on his barleys this season – the second, once the awns are out, being based on Punch C (flusilazole) with fenpropidin at mildew knockdown rates, he says.

AFTER four weeks with virtually no rain, the 50mm (2in) which fell recently in a few days at EWH Farms, Coat, Somerset was much appreciated. "We were getting dry as dry and crops were starting to slow down," says Andrew Hebditch.

"It meant that we went ahead and used an extra 30 units/acre or so of N on some of the wheats on our lighter land." It takes the maximum used to 244kg/ha (195 units/acre). "We are trying to see just how far we can push them," he explains.

The moisture means that 0.75 litres/ha (0.53pt/acre) of Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride) growth regulator will go on as planned with the main flag leaf fungicide – a three-quarter-rate mix of Opus (epoxiconazole) and Bravo (chlorothalonil) plus a touch of Tern (fenpropidin) against mildew – as soon as conditions allow. "We wouldnt have used it if it had stayed dry."

Despite the dry spell, rhynchosporium got out of control in Pipkin barley, probably because of showers after the first reduced rate DUK-747 (flusilazole) treatment at GS31 (first node detectable), he suspects. "It ran riot. We had to go again at full rate at GS33. And we will definitely have to go again at awns fully emerged." Puffin, which is about a week ahead is much less affected, he notes.

Both peas and beans had to have two applications of cypermethrin insecticide to keep weevils in check. "It has been more of a problem in the beans. But we always do the peas as a matter of course."

WITH only 7mm (0.3in) of rain in April at Priory Farm, Wrentham, Norfolk, Roger Middleditch has resorted to irrigating both wheat and barley to keep his stunted crops alive. "The barley is not much more than a foot tall," he comments. "We have had a nice drop recently, but its nothing like what we need."

Sugar beet, which traditionally should meet across the rows by this weeks Suffolk Show, barely covers 10% of the ground after persistently cold weather, he reports.

With the cereals apparently disease-free and clearly with reduced yield potential, he is reluctant to use much fungicide. Irrigated Riband wheat has received 0.25 litres/ha (0.18pt/acre) of Opus (epoxiconazole), mainly against septoria, after most of the crops had an Alto/Bravo (cyproconazole/chloro- thalonil) mix towards the end of April. Little else is planned for now.

Late growth regulator use has also been very limited because of the on-hold conditions. "Weve done only one whole field with Terpal. Other than that it has been just on the overlaps – the crops have just not been forward enough."

Oilseed rape, which was struggling on the light land, however, has pulled together well after the latest rain. A split treatment of MBC fungicide at 0.25 litres/ha each time is the anti-sclerotinia strategy.

Earlier insecticide against pollen beetle was unnecessary. "The threshold wasnt high enough," explains Mr Middleditch.

RAINFALL in the first four months of this year was less than two-thirds what it was in 1995 at Kensham Farms, Cadmore End, Bucks, says Charlie Edgley.

"Our crops havent obviously been suffering, but the Estica wheat was just beginning to curl before the latest rain. The main thing is that everything has been so slow and late."

Rhynchosporium levels in Intro winter barley have been unexpectedly high. "After the first fungicide we had hoped to do nothing until the awns emerged. But weve had to go back again to hold the rhynchosporium."

Contract-grown Angora has been less affected, he notes. Despite this he plans an awns-emerged broad-spectrum protective treatment of Cogito (propiconazole + tebuconazole) plus carbendazim. Unlike the Intro, which responded well to chlormequat and Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl), a growth regulator would have been superfluous this season on the Angora. "There wont be much straw this year," he comments.

Timing of chlormequat, an essential input at GS32 (second node detectable) on his oats, was tricky this season because of variable growth. "We just had to take the happy average because it was so uneven." At the same time 0.35 litres/ha (0.25pt/acre) of Corbel (fenpropimorph) against mildew and a seaweed-based stimulant to kick-start the roots went on.

Fungicides on the wheat, mainly Sportak Delta (cyproconazole + prochloraz) in mid-April, have worked well, though the Rialto may need a pre-flag leaf treatment, he believes. "The most interesting thing on the Rialto though is the effect of half-rate chlormequat and half-rate Moddus. Where I missed a bit, there is a five inch difference in height. You can see the thickening in the stem from the mix."n

Starane (fluroxypyr) has been required quite widely to tidy up unusually high levels of cleavers, but has been slow to work in the cold. Ryegrass control from Hoegrass (diclofop-methyl) used in early March has also been disappointing, he says.

Low disease levels has meant less spraying at Priory Farm this spring.