15 January 1999

Sodden start to year dampens recovery hopes

By Andrew Blake

NEW Year weather is doing little to help farmers catch up on outstanding field work, causing significant problems for growers across the land.

In Northumberland a poor harvest followed by autumn struggles means it is the worst possible start for some growers, says Simon Francis of the North East Arable Centre. In some area up to 80% of planned wheats have been sown and some farms are even sprayed up, he reports. Elsewhere the picture is different.

"In mid-Northumberland only 40-60% is drilled, mauled into horrible seed-beds and hit by slugs. It is the heavy land that is left to do and the situation on some farms is pretty dire. After last years harvest with bad quality and poor yields it is a double whammy for these guys."

Last year was the second wettest in three decades on Bedfordshires heavy soils, and no field work has been done for six weeks, says ADASs David Parish. "Three inches of rain in the third week of September set the autumn scene and we never recovered."

Much wheat is unsown and even some well-equipped farms have done no autumn spraying, drilling having taken priority. But forcing cultivations must be resisted to avoid lasting damage to the soil, he advises.

In Shropshire even normally free-draining soils are ponding because of compaction, notes colleague Andrew Wilkins.

In Essex about 10% of the intended winter wheat area has been switched to spring cropping after growers reckoned they were unlikely to move before the end of January.

"They took the decision before Christmas, and have not regretted it," says ADASs Neil Watson.

Growers tackling weeds in backward, waterlogged cereals should use contact herbicides rather than residuals to avoid crop damage, he adds. "On the plus side broad spectrum products did a cracking job pre-drilling which has taken some of the pressure off."

Scottish wheat

Only 55-60% of the Scottish wheat area is sown, some of it puddled in just before Christmas, says Mark Ballingall of CSC Crop Protection. "Little has been done after potatoes. The fields look like battlefields." Up to 8% of potatoes remain unlifted, and growers considering abandoning fields to set-aside should remember that after Jan 15 they must make no attempt to harvest them, he says. "Few cereals have been sprayed, but most winter rape has received fungicide, which is important up here."

Contractors have fared little better. Notts-based Colin Hinchley has resorted to spinning on 200ha (500 acres) of wheat in an attempt to catch up.

"Conditions are atrocious," adds Oxon-based Charles Matthews. All his spraying is up to date, but not without his Bateman low-ground pressure machine becoming stuck. "We have never seen conditions like these."

Mild weather means many unsprayed cereals are still threatened by BYDV, warns Brown Butlins David Stormonth. Inability to treat wheat bulb fly is also causing concern, says Patrick Thornton of ADAS Gleadthorpe.

SATURATED SOILS

&#8226 Wheat drilling worries.

&#8226 Little spraying done.

&#8226 Programme changes.

&#8226 BYDV & bulb fly fears.

SATURATED SOILS

&#8226 Wheat drilling worries.

&#8226 Little spraying done.

&#8226 Programme changes.

&#8226 BYDV & bulb fly fears.