Early sowing worth the risk on northern unit
September wheat drilling
is once again proving itself
on farmers weeklys
barometer farm in the north.
Andrew Blake reports
HAVING most wheats sown by the end of September may seem to be asking for trouble, but for Anthony Hornshaw it is a policy which usually pays.
Crops at Croft Farms, near Darlington this season are expected to confirm the trend.
"We certainly would not want to wait until October up here," says Mr Hornshaw. Some of the mainly heavy land runs to 180m (600ft) above sea level.
Only now does disease merit control. And a conservative experience-based approach to nitrogen and growth regulation should keep crops upright and yielding well, without spending too much, he believes. "Cost of production is always well to the fore in my mind."
Last September, with only 41mm (1.6in) of rain, saw all 298ha (737 acres) of first wheats drilled by the 20th. Most was Riband and Consort after oilseed rape. "They came through the winter well. We were luckier than some others who had a lot more rain."
Second wheats were not completed until Oct 12 and it is those that have needed chivvying along this spring.
"For all crops it appears that the push from residual N has not been there this season," says Mr Hornshaw. "It was that which made us apply 40 units/acre to the second wheats back in mid-February.
"They have recently had another 100 units, and I am reasonably happy with both the eyespot and take-all potential at this stage, though I am not complacent."
Early drilling meant first wheats merited a more relaxed top-dressing strategy. "We held back until about a fortnight ago when we gave them a reasonable dollop of 70 units/acre."
The balance, to a maximum of 225kg/ha (180 units/acre), will be applied by the end of April. "We will rein back to 150-160 units on the more fertile land to make sure it stays standing."
With no livestock muck going on the land, adjusting overall doses is relatively straightforward. "The other main consideration is variety, but we tend to avoid those with weaker standing power." Other varieties include Equinox, Haven, Beaufort, Madrigal and a small area of Claire. "If we had Charger we would have to tread more carefully."
Mr Hornshaw is unconvinced that growth regulators other than straight chlormequat have a place on the farm. "Our memories of flat crops and damaged combine lifters are fresh enough to mean we must keep crops standing. But a well-timed split programme of 3C chlormequat is usually good enough, especially if we have avoided too much early N as with the first wheats this year.
"The Arable Research Centres work indicates that Moddus cannot be justified on a cost/benefit basis on wheat, though it does have a place as a chlormequat follow up on winter barley."
The warm dry spell early this month, after 75mm (3in) of rain in March, was ideal for the first 1.75 litres/ha of chlormequat to do its straw strengthening work. "I like to see the temperature no lower than 8C, and it has been 10-14."
Manganese sulphate at 5kg/ha went on at the same time. "We have used manganese for about five years after our agronomist Peter Lambert pressed me into it. Some varieties, especially Riband and Consort, tend to show deficiencies more than others.
"The sulphate is not so easy to put through the sprayer as a chelate liquid, but it is cheaper and seems more effective.
"So far we have not put fungicide on any of the cereals. Touch wood we do not seem to get problems with eyespot or mildew despite our early sowing. I am reasonably happy that Septoria tritici levels have been contained by the dry weather of the past fortnight. But we shall undoubtedly have to use a fungicide very soon.
"ARC tells us the important leaves which need protecting are emerging about three weeks earlier than normal this year in early sown crops, so we need to time our applications correctly. But I dont usually like to go too early because we can get out of synch and the first treatment may be over-stretched and run out of steam before flag leaf."
Choice and dose will depend on disease pressure, variety and weather at the time. "It will be either straight Opus or Opus with one of the strobilurins if we think its needed. But I would prefer to hold the strobilurin back for use at flag leaf and on the ear. Amistar as an ear wash is a wonderful product." *
• SCOTLAND – Attempts at timely wheat sowing have long been frustrated by the weather at Balgone Farms. After a run of dry autumns when drilling had to wait for moisture, the past two seasons have been so wet schedules have been badly disrupted, says James Grant Suttie. This season barely 40ha (100 acres) is where he would wish to see it by now and can justify a full strobilurin-based fungicide programme.
• MIDLANDS – If Tony Wright can sow wheat on the drought-prone heathland at Elms Farm in August he will. "I have no qualms about it. We get a bigger root system, we use less seed and so spend less." Provided seed rate is adjusted correctly, crop structure largely overcomes concerns about increased lodging and disease.
• EAST – The earliest wheat at Hyde Hall went in on Sept 18, and most drilling was completed before October. "It is all through GS31 by now," says Robert Salmon. The main difference in management this season involves fields after sugar beet, some of which were not sown until Dec 10, and do not merit split chlormequat applications.
• SOUTH – John Chalcraft says he has a conventional wheat sowing policy at New Farm. "We tend to start with first wheats in the third week of September, move on to winter barley and then do the second wheats. The earliest drillings always tend to look the best at this time of year, but last year one of our best crops came from one of the latest 1997 sowings."