11 April 1997

South & east struggle as rains refuse to fall

Much of south and eastern England is now gripped in drought. That is bad news for irrigation prospects and combineable crops alike. Charles Abel and Robert Harris report on the current situation

CRACKED soils testify to the continuing drought as rain misses most of England and Wales. Many late-drilled winter and spring combineable crops are now struggling.

"Anywhere in the east is bad – Lincs and East Anglia particularly so," says Velcourts technical director Keith Norman.

Yield potential will soon be affected, especially in crops drilled late after roots on lighter soils, he believes. "No crops are suffering from drought stress yet. But some fields in Worcs and the Vale of Evesham will soon."

Crops drilled early into good seed-beds have put down deep roots and early nitrogen has paid off, he notes. "Anyone who waited could come unstuck. Although ammonium nitrate takes up atmospheric moisture, without rain it will only dissolve into the top few mm of soil."

Spring linseed and oilseed rape are emerging slowly where seed-bed moisture has been conserved, Mr Norman adds. But they will need water soon. Early winter rape flowering is being attributed to drought stress.

In cereals wet weather diseases like septoria, net blotch and rhynchosporium are all drying out, as well as stem-based diseases.

Main concern at the moment is getting fertiliser into crops, says Herts-based crop consultant Peter Taylor. "But you have only got to remember 1984. Crops looked awful in April. They were very thin and everyone was predicting disaster. But then we had rain in May and the rest is history.

"Most crop yellowing is still relatively cosmetic, but we need rain in the next three weeks."

Best looking stands are those where growers upped their earlier nitrogen rates, he notes. "But they are relatively few and far between."


&#8226 No significant rain forecast.

&#8226 Annual rainfall below average

in six of past seven years.

&#8226 Low winter rainfall means ground water and reservoir levels unseasonally low.

&#8226 Soil moisture deficits already high – combineable crops set to suffer.

&#8226 Earliest start for irrigators in years – widespread abs–

traction limits likely.

&#8226 Spray stressed crops with

care – avoid "hot" mixes.

&#8226 Keep to fertiliser plans.