9 November 2001

Sheep grazing checks disease

USING sheep grazing to curtail vigorous early-sown cereals and slow rapid disease development could pay this autumn, says one ag-chem distributor.

Rather than spending on autumn plant growth regulators and fungicides it is urging farmers to use sheep to check disease and crop growth, where foot-and-mouth movement restrictions allow.

Applying fungicide now will help retain tillers that desperately need thinning, argues UAP technical manager Chris Bean.

"Some growers have had close to 100% establishment from good seed beds and could have double the plant population they need." A plant growth regulator spray now would boost tiller numbers.

"Using sheep as a natural growth regulator is not a new idea. Many growers in the 1950s and 1960s grazed their crops routinely if they were getting too proud," says Mr Bean.

Shropshire grower Peter Jones has grazed a 1000-ewe flock on his 121ha (300 acres) of winter cereals for as long as he can remember. "Its beneficial to the crop because the sheep graze off the diseased shoots, and its a valuable source of fodder."

Barley is grazed pre-Christmas and wheat after, the animals often taking the crop right down to the ground. But Mr Jones insists there is no danger to the plant – the growing point remains intact. "Yield doesnt suffer at all."

Doing nothing may not be an option, says Velcourts Keith Norman. "It may be fine to lose a few tillers now, but strike the right balance. Diseases like mildew and yellow rust cannot go unabated." &#42