Crop Watch – Rain both helps and hinders

Oilseed rape crops have faced some early challenges this year, with many being established later than optimum and a prolonged dry spell resulting in slow emergence.

With the recent rain helping to kick-start these thirsty crops, the hindrance comes in the form of increased slug risk. “These late-emerging crops will grow away slowly and be vulnerable to slug damage,” says Nick Brown, agronomist for Procam in the central South.

“Growers should be considering multiple applications of slug pellets to keep crops protected and using 1.5% metaldehyde pellets will allow three applications, while staying within the 210g/ha metaldehyde limit.

“These lower-dose pellets are just as effective and the alternatives will increase control costs considerably,” adds Mr Brown.

Mr Brown also notes that fine, firm seed-beds should be achievable after the recent rain and advises a drilling depth of between 35-55mm to reduce slug seed hollowing risk. “It will also provide the ideal conditions for pre-emergence herbicide programmes.”

Early weed control programmes will have an increased importance this year, with high blackgrass dormancy and the dry spell reducing the ability to produce stale seed-beds so far.

“With the moisture we now have there is a great opportunity to encourage the germination of blackgrasss, which can then be killed with a pre-drilling glyphosate,” says Neil Donkin of Countrywide Farmers in Devon.

“In-crop control was poor last year and there has been a huge seed return, so anything we can kill early is a great bonus. “Residual stacking” is the new buzz phrase for blackgrass control, but it’s expensive and doesn’t guarantee 100% control, so kill all you can prior to drilling,” explains Mr Donkin.

Flufenacet mixtures are the pre-emergence choice for Mr Donkin on his winter barley area for grassweed control, as he points out post-emergence options are limited. “Particularly where blackgrass is a concern, and the addition of another active will improve levels of control further,” he adds.

Recent rains have also increased disease pressure in the small, slowly emerging rape crops. Phoma leaf spot levels should be monitored, says eastern Strutt and Parker agronomist Ryan Hudson. “Small crops and susceptible varieties should be prioritised and a fungicide applied soon after 10% of plants are showing symptoms.”

Unusually, no region in the UK has escaped the adverse season that has had growers despairing. Up in Scotland, with combines almost back in the shed for all but a few, there have been some interesting questions raised.

Barley has suffered from poor quality, particularly six-row feed varieties, says independent agronomist Hamish Coutts in Perthshire. “Many growers have incurred penalties this year, but how is it that we never get a bonus for delivering grain above specification?”

He has also noted the trials and tribulations of spring barley varieties this year, with skinning a major issue within the later-maturing varieties.

“The old stager Optic has come into its own, despite its low rating on the Recommended List. Mind you, the lists for all the crops and varieties have been turned on their heads this year, which begs the question ‘is this a blip or are we going to have to come to terms with this type of season as the norm?'”

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