9 April 1999

Potato plantings are catching up

POTATO plantings are behind last year, but growers are catching up fast, says the British Potato Councils Rob Burrow. Only in 1994 and 1981 was less ground planted by the end of March, he adds.

Early growers could face added competition from Brittany this year, as produce is switched from Russian outlets to UK markets, he predicts.

There 90% of the 6000ha (14,800-acre) early crop is planted.


1st Earlies 7,678

2nd Earlies 6,228

Maincrop 6,925

Total 20,831

Spud ICMputs big questions

POTATO buyers must be prepared to accept more agronomically useful varieties to justify their belief that integrated crop management is the way ahead.

So says David Hudson, technical director of Lincs-based Sutton Bridge pre-packers. "Retailers are adamant that ICM protocols deliver the high quality product and benefits that consumers can recognise and demand. But I am quite worried about the way that ICM is going."

Current protocols do little to defuse the time-bomb of potato cyst nematode, warns Mr Hudson. "People skirt around the use of nematicides at low populations. But without a change of attitude to varieties we shall need to use them for a long time to come."

Rotations are still too short for true ICM control, and tolerant varieties, like Cara, merely mask the long term problem of Globodera pallida build up, he adds.

"If the industry is really serious about ICM farmers should be using more nematode-resistant varieties like Sante, Valor and several others coming along and encouraging buyers to take them more.

"These may not suit their culinary or processing needs quite so well. But agronomists, growers and packers should be working together to show how useful they can be and to persuade buyers to reconsider them as part of their requirements."

Spring work on track but crops need extra care

By Andrew Swallow

GROWERS around the country are back on schedule with spring work, say advisers. Now management must be tailored to individual fields to tackle huge variations in crop condition.

Nitrogen on winter cereals is top priority for ADASs John Garstang. "They are starting to grow rapidly and need the main application as soon as possible."

Once nitrogen is on, fungicide choice and timing will need tuning to each field. Forward wheats are showing moderate to severe septoria and yellow rust is reported in Brigadier and Riband around the wash and south Lincs. T1 treatments, with both eradicant and protectant activity, should not be delayed.

"That may mean GS31 rather than GS32 in some crops. Flexibility is the key – look at each crop individually. The message has to be inspect, inspect, inspect," he stresses.

Later-drilled crops are a mixed bag. The worst need nitrogen to get them going but the best are in good shape with little disease.

That message is echoed north of the border by SACs George Barton. In the east spring work is racing ahead, while those further west are still hampered by wet soils, he says.

"In East Lothian, Berwickshire and Fife cereal sowing is finished and they are busy planting potatoes. Forward winter wheats have taken up early nitrogen and look good. We recommend a clean-up spray now on heavy septoria, eyespot or foot-rots."

However, many crops are more backward and patchy. "It is one of the most varied seasons. Growers have to take each decision on an individual field basis."

90% of sugar beet in

BY Tuesday 90% of the sugar beet crop was planted, according to British Sugar. Only heavy, low-lying land, mainly in the Peterborough and Ipswich factory areas was left to drill. "That needs two or three more drying days. It could be all in by early next week if the weather holds," says BSs Paul Bee.

Forward crops are at cotyledon stage, but weeds too are establishing rapidly, adds IACR-Brooms Barns Mike May. They will be soft and respond well to herbicides, but beet plants are similarly tender so as crop-safe products as possible should be used, he says. Growers with a large area to cover should consider residuals to buy some time with later applications.

Guide prompts resistance testing

DIFFICULT to control blackgrass needs testing for herbicide resistance, urges a top researcher. But such tests must be planned and conducted properly, he warns. A new protocol could help.

Less than 10% of farms with a blackgrass problem have done any resistance testing, says Stephen Moss of IACR-Rothamsted.

The new 16-page guide to the Petri-dish seed germination test shows what is involved to ensure meaningful results. It can also be used to detect resistance in wild oats and Italian ryegrass.

The kit is primarily aimed at agronomists, distributors and perhaps trained students, says Dr Moss. "Farmers are generally too busy with harvest during mid-August to mid-September."

Attention to detail in the six key steps is vital, says Dr Moss. The booklet details them:

&#8226 Seed collection.

&#8226 Seed cleaning and dormancy breaking storage treatment.

&#8226 Preparing Petri-dishes.

&#8226 Preparing & adding herbicides to dishes.

&#8226 Assessing Petri-dishes.

&#8226 Interpretation of results.

"The biggest problem is getting people to take good seed samples. Most of the samples we see, especially of wild oats, are rubbish."

For blackgrass the best time to collect seed is usually the second and third week of July. Seeds should be gently rubbed from the heads over a polythene bag. Paper envelopes should then be used for transport and storage.

For a free copy of the booklet send a stamped, self-addressed A4 envelope to Dr Stephen Moss, IACR-Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts AL5 2JQ.

Getting to the root of the problem … poor below-ground development in early sown cereals is a legacy of wet soils and a warm winter, says Dr David Stormonth of distributor Brown Butlin. A recent assessment of crop shows plenty of cause for concern, he warns. Where rooting is poor he advises an early growth regulator to help stimulate root growth.

Regulator is back

CHLORMEQUAT growth regulator can once again be applied to spring barley following approval of Barleyquat B for the crop.

Approval was withdrawn about three years ago after ADAS trials suggested it gave little economic benefit, says Mandops Peter Harding. "But that was because people were generally using it too late, at GS30, and missing out on the rapidly growing crop."

The new use, based on yield enhancement through an application at GS12-13, as little as 30 days after sowing, comes after 10 independent trials from 1995 to 1997 indicated a mean boost in output of 0.36t/ha (0.29t/acre).

The benefits come through enhanced early crown root development, increased stem strength and tiller survival, explains Mr Harding. The product, which contains a low temperature activator and safeners, is effective even in the cold and gives consistent responses, he adds.

Even though approval has come late this spring he anticipates strong demand especially in Scotland and northern England.

CORRECTION

AgrEvos new fungicide Foil (fluquinconazole + prochloraz) was wrongly referred to as Folio in last weeks issue (Arable, Apr 2).