20 November 1998

Patience will pay as wet weather delays sowing

By Andrew Blake

GRIT your teeth and be patient; that is the advice from most agronomists for winter wheat growers contemplating sodden unsown fields.

With some northern farms still only half drilled, thoughts are turning to broadcasting and alternative crops. But in most cases opinion says best policy is to stick with winter varieties and conventional drilling, at least until after Christmas.

"Do not assume it is a disaster if you have been held back," says ADAS Rosemaunds John Spink. He believes the link between sowing date and output is weaker than many believe.

"Yield will be going down, but probably not as much as you expect. We have had 11t/ha from November sowings.

"If you get the opportunity keep going, though it is not worth making a mess just to get on." Pneumatic spreading may offer a catch-up option where drilling is impossible, he says.

It is getting late to get the best from varieties like Consort, Reaper, Riband and Savannah, so they should have priority, adds E Yorks based colleague Brendon OConnor. Charger, Hussar and Soissons are more flexible.

"But the land is very tender now," he warns. "Do not destroy it. For some ground after potatoes I think we can say forget it." Broadcasting is more useful in good conditions than as a fire-brigade exercise, he warns.

"There are another six weeks to go before you need to start panicking," advises Doug Stevens of Morley Research Centre. Given similar seed-beds a delay into December could trim yield by 0.3t/ha (2.4cwt/acre). "But by sowing in better conditions then, you could be no worse off than if you go on now."

He sees no reason to switch to spring varieties until the New Year. But high seed rates will be required to counter potentially poor establishment and reduced tillering. "You could need as much as 500 seed a sq m."

James Wallace of Peterborough-based Daltons Seeds says Charger, Rialto and Soissons sown before the turn of the year should all perform as well or better than spring varieties, which will be in short supply and costly.

ARC trials also suggest true winter wheats are likely to be more rewarding than alternatives, up to the end of January. "Late sowing removes Chargers only Achilles heel – lodging – and tends to boost protein levels," says Lincs-based David Robinson.

Perth-based Keith Dawson of CSC CropCare urges growers considering extra set-aside to continue sowing winter wheat if conditions allow. "In 1985 and 87 we had good results even from February-sown Riband, up to 3t/acre. Non-cropped options are profit forgone. But make sure you include slug pellets with the seed. Doing so has been proved absolutely right this year."

Wheat sowing angst

&#8226 Patience encouraged.

&#8226 Good results still possible.

&#8226 Prioritise varieties.

&#8226 Broadcasting last resort.

Gently does it. Avoid the temptation to puddle winter wheat in say specialists. Most believe there is still plenty of time to get good yields from true winter varieties.