3 May 1996

West wallows in the wet but the east is gasping

Moisture, or lack of it, is the main talking point as we make our first seasonal call on farmers weeklys four southernmost barometer growers. Andrew Blake reports

HUGE variations in rainfall from west to east have been a feature of this spring so far.

In the west an estimated 100mm (4in) over the past month or so has left David Prices September-sown wheats at Barland Farm, Even-jobb, Presteigne, Powys, looking superb. "They are really storming, though the barleys are very standard." The main downside of all the rain has been a few tramlines deeper than he would have wished – the farm has no low ground pressure equipment.

For Roger Middleditch at Priory Farm, Wrentham, Norfolk, the contrast could hardly be greater. "We havent had an inch since Christmas. It is extremely dry and some of the cereals are yellowing. Anything drilled late after sugar beet is looking a bit sick. It seems like 1976 all over again at the moment. We are desperate for rain." The picture is much the same all along the coast from the Wash to Essex, he says.

In Somerset March rainfall of 76mm (3in) was twice that only 20 miles away at Wellington, according to Andrew Hebditch of EWH Farms, Coat. "We have had over 24in in the past six months." Spring beans barely escaped flooding on the low-lying fields, and April showers made spraying a stop-start operation.

Rain sufficient for now

Charlie Edgley reckons recent rain has been adequate for his crops at Kensham Farms, Cadmore End, Bucks. "It is sufficient for now," he says. To date there has been a marked difference between early and late sowings. "September drillings never looked back. October ones are still a bit behind but catching up rapidly."

Weed control from autumn herbicides proved satisfactory on all four farms, with minimal spring treatments required. Mr Prices oats are a bit dirty, having, with the demise of Tribunil (methabenzthiazuron), had only a Prebane (terbutryn) treatment. CMPP (mecoprop) and Briotril (bromoxynil + ioxynil) are planned to clear up remaining broad-leaved weeds. "I do not want to use Ally, because the field is going back into oilseed rape," he says.

Most of Mr Edgleys cereals look well, though some oats are a big disappointment. "The Gerald is OK." But frost lift and Prebane damage has hit Aintree on the lighter banks. "We have redrilled 10 acres with spring oats."

Spot treatments with half-rate Eagle (amidosulfuron) and the fops Cheetah and Tigress went on with the first growth regulator to Mr Hebditchs cereals to mop up after acceptable results from an IPU/trifluralin autumn programme.

Mr Middleditch reports most cereals are very clean compared with last season. Cleavers and the coastal weed, Alexanders, creeping from field edges have been the main targets for low rates of Starane (fluroxypyr) and Ally (metsulfuron-methyl). "But the pre-emergence herbicide on the sugar beet might as well have been thrown to the wind it has been so dry," he says.

Top dressing a bit later

Top dressing, a bit later than normal on the barley, was all done at Barland Farm by April 19, with a maximum of 161kg/ha (129 units/ acre) of nitrogen going on to the wheats. "That will be it, says Mr Price. "That is enough for here."

Mr Edgley is pushing his Rialto wheat hard with up to 220kg/ha (175 units/acre) and a planned liquid application in June after proteins were lower than hoped last year. Sulphur in the form of Kemiras Doubletop is being tried for the first time on the oilseed rape after publicity over deficiencies. And the same firms Kayenne backs the urea used to provide 125kg/ha (100 units/acre) to Angora malting barley in an effort to boost soil potash indices.

With hindsight Mr Hebditch thinks the 225kg/ha (180 units/ acre) applied to his Apex commercial and industrial oilseed rape went on too early. "It is only in the last 10 days that the crop has really started to get going." But little N will have been leached, he says.

The dry winter has led Mr Middleditch to cut back on the N for winter wheat, which so far has had 150kg/ha (120 units/acre). Rainfall will largely determine future action.

Non-herbicide sprays have concentrated on keeping crops standing and correcting trace element deficiencies. Copper has been required at Barland Farm after first-time leaf sample analysis highlighted a shortage. Disease levels have certainly not merited full-rate fungicides, reports Mr Price.

Mr Edgley had planned to use Eclipse (epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) on his malting barley but switched to a Sportak Alpha (prochloraz + carbendazim)/ Tiptor (cyproconazole + prochloraz) mix to avoid materials not yet approved by the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association.

Rhynchosporium and net blotch have been the main targets in Mr Hebditchs barleys. He played safe with 1 litre/ha (0.7pt/ acre) of Terpal (2-chloroethyl-phosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride) as the second growth regulator on his Pipkin destined for malting. "We do not want it going down," he explains.

The dry weather means cereal disease has been minimal at Priory Farm. Barley net blotch, a recurring coastal problem, rhynchosporium and traces of brown rust have been tackled with Lyric (flusilazole), says Mr Middleditch. &#42

New air bubble jets have proved their worth this season by cutting spray drift and ensuring good trace element coverage, says Chilterns-based Charlie Edgley. And a new KRM spreader has speeded fertiliser top-dressing.