10 November 1995

Dry seed-beds restrain some winter cereals

MOST winter cereal crops are now growing away strongly. But some on heavier soils in the east and south are struggling to emerge from parched, cloddy seed-beds.

"Quite a few farmers are now very concerned," says David Stormonth of distributor Brown Butlin. But he advises growers to check if seed is viable before considering re-drilling.

Most still is, he believes. But some seeds have germinated, dried up and died. Others are infected with penicillium blue mould, a soil-borne fungus which feeds on sugars produced during germination. Symptoms can appear after three weeks, and affected seed is killed, he explains.

Growers should dig up a handful of seed and test germination levels by placing it on moist kitchen roll and incubating it for three days, suggests Dr Stormonth.

"This will help growers not to make mistakes. Re-drilling on top of viable seed will double the plant population. On the other hand, doing nothing could result in an empty field."

ADAS cereal specialist John Garstang reckons the problem is most noticeable where it has been difficult to get good seed to soil contact, notably heavy land headlands.

Growers should check drill rows for blue mould and rotting, he advises. "Its not too late to re-drill with the same variety. But where seed looks healthy, leave it alone and see what happens after the next rain. Its surprising how many late-emerging crops struggle through."

Richard Peck, regional director for Sentry Farming, reckons he will wait before assessing the heavier soils he farms in north Lincs.

"Crops are showing very patchy emergence in places. Most were drilled in September into some fairly dry, cloddy seed-beds." Some blue mould is present, but not enough yet to cause undue concern, he says.

He will wait for "good, steady rain" before deciding what to do. "Theres no guarantee that re-drilled seed will be any better off at the moment. Its unbelievably dry. Once soils are moist, we shall see what germinates.

"Then we shall look at each field individually and decide whether to drill patches, the whole field or leave it."