14 March 1996

Inputs matched to growth

By Andrew Blake

INDIVIDUAL crop management is a must this spring at Heathfield Manor Farm near Taunton, according to barometer farmer Richard Payne. Lush crops, but big differences in growth stages, mean care will be needed to time inputs correctly and avoid waste.

Main areas of current attention are cereal disease, applying P and K and tidying up weeds, especially in oilseed rape. About two-fifths of the N for the latter has already gone on. But Mr Payne and agronomist David Wall are in no hurry to apply nitrogen to cereals.

A few backward wheats had a light kick-start dose of Nitram in January. But the expectation is that the bulk of crops, apart from milling varieties, will get their main N dose in two hits instead of the more usual three.

"We dont want to encourage too much early growth down here," says Herefordshire-based Mr Wall. "And 1cwt of nitrogen down the drain could have paid for a lot of fungicide."

Hail damage to wheat has healed, but eyespot, Septoria tritici and mildew are already apparent. A detailed fungicide strategy is currently undecided, but will probably be based on Opus (epoxiconazole). However, sharp eyespot, presently uncontrollable, is becoming more troublesome, Mr Wall believes.

Lurking at the back of Mr Paynes mind are area aid cuts which will demand even tighter management next year. So he is looking forward to getting a feel for the value of newer fungicide chemistry, like mildewicide quinoxyfen, scheduled for Gaelic winter barley soon. This seasons 17ha (42 acres) has an ideal plant population – not overthick – after deliberately late drilling.

The persistent quinoxyfen could be especially useful on a low-lying wheat field which always attracts mildew. Multiple treatments will be increasingly hard to justify, he adds. "Velcourts experiment with nine passes cost at least £27/acre for the applications alone."

A small seed rate trial in Brigadier wheat is under way to assess the impact of lower rates on disease progress. Tillering to date suggests the farms target of 375 plants a sq m established is about right, says Mr Payne.

Two of the five bags of Sulphan (30N:19SO3) destined for Apex oilseed rape perked the crop up. But mayweeds and speedwell on the headlands and in thinner patches also appreciated the fertiliser.

"We didnt use Kerb because we may not want to plough if we are going to use the Simba Freeflow and minimum cultivation next autumn," says Mr Wall. Dow Shield (clopyralid) will be used to tidy up. With little disease showing, tank-mixed Sportak (prochloraz) will offer cheap anti-phoma insurance, reckons Mr Payne.

Plans to try to even up and stiffen the patchy crop with chlormequat growth regulator will probably be abandoned. Useful results have been achieved in Scotland, but further south findings are inconclusive, says Mr Wall.

Wheat growth stage is closely scrutinised by Richard Payne (left) and agronomist David Wall.


HEATHFIELD FARM


&#8226 Individual crop management a must.

&#8226 Big differences in growth stages.

&#8226 No rush for cereal nitrogen.

&#8226 Area aid cuts a key concern.

&#8226 New fungicide to be tested.

&#8226 Oilseed rape still patchy.