7 September 2001

Right nutrition vital when early drilling

NUTRITION plays a crucial role in successful establishment, particularly when crops are drilled early, warns a leading arable consultant.

Dry, poor quality seed-beds and more take-all are likely, so growers need to ensure crops get enough nutrients for strong root growth, says EYorks independent consultant Ian Chalmers.

In his trials on the Yorks Wolds, the average yield response of wheat and barley to a micronutrient programme is 7%. Over a wider range of soil types, Chris Rigley, another independent consultant from East Yorks, reckons a 3-5% boost is the norm.

"About 80% of crops would get that sort of benefit from a micronutrient programme provided the sprays are well timed."

Seed-bed conditions are critical, says Mr Chalmers. "But because a lot of growers are operating with less labour and want to cut other costs, they will be trying to reduce cultivation passes. So seed-bed quality is likely to suffer, and with early drilling lack of moisture might also be a problem."

Early-drilled crops also produce more biomass, which needs more nutrients itself and a strong root system to support it. Take-all prone second wheat and wheat following the 900,000ha-plus of set-aside will need particular care this autumn, says Mr Chalmers.

The link between nutrition and disease is a further reason for getting nutrient supply right. Fungicides seem to work better on crops that have had a good micronutrient programme, he explains.

"Micronutrient use has become an essential part of crop management because were pushing crops to their limits. But they must be applied at the right growth stages, otherwise they wont produce the optimum benefit."

The key nutrients for strong root development are manganese, zinc and P. Tank-mixing with autumn BYDV and/or herbicide treatments and spring PGRs can be the most convenient and economic approach.

Apply manganese and zinc to cereals at the 2-3 leaf stage, then phosphite at the 5-6 leaf stage, Mr Chalmers advises. Phosphite is a more stable and readily available form of P than phosphate, particularly in dry conditions or when the soil temperature drops below 5C.

"In early spring, especially for crops on light, high pH soils, you need to build on what you did in the autumn with manganese plus copper and possibly magnesium sprays. Manganese enhances the plants natural disease resistance, helping improve mildew control in particular. Copper is needed for good fertility and magnesium is essential for photosynthesis." &#42

BOOSTINGROOTING

&#8226 Early drilling, take-all and less than ideal, dry seed-beds.

&#8226 Good rooting vital.

&#8226 Ensure nutrients not limiting.

&#8226 Consider nutrient timing and type.

Nitrate nutrient

Manganese in the nitrate form in new manganese spray Headland Choice offers faster crop uptake, says Headland Agrochemicals technical manager Charlie Bannister.

The product is highly concentrated requiring just 0.75 litres/ha, and tank-mix compatibility is said to be very good. The company also produces nitrate forms of copper and magnesium.