Crop Watch: Barley glut sees growers persist with wheat

One of the wettest autumns for years continues to dominate crop agronomy, with growers unable to tackle the rising disease threat to oilseed rape and to hit weeds in the few cereal crops that have been drilled.

Agronomists point out that wheat drilling will probably drag on into the middle of February as seed-bed conditions improve, given the almost inevitable glut of spring barley.

Growers are also on the backfoot for spring cropping, being unable to get primary cultivations done on areas destined for spring drilling.

South West: Stephen Harrison

AICC/Southwest Agronomy (Avon)

Stephen Harrison

Stephen Harrison

Fieldwork remains at a premium with only sporadic bursts of activity. Normally, jobs would be virtually complete and thoughts turning towards the winter conference season. 

I am convinced that this is the wettest autumn since 1976 when the hot weather broke in early September and it seemed to rain until Christmas.

See also: Cereal grower to ditch herbicides for inter-row hoe

Vigilance for slugs has been essential as the late-sown crops are taking three weeks to emerge and remain susceptible to early damage. At least grassweed growth has also slowed down. 

A large area of crop that has been drilled remains unsprayed. Concern is growing that planned Crystal (flufenacet + pendimethalin) applications may not happen given that the cut-off for winter cereals is 31 December in the year of planting. No contact graminicides whatsoever have been applied.

Such has been the loss of oilseed rape to flea beetle damage that we have recommended more propyzamide for beans than OSR, a definite first. Ensure that propyzamide is not applied to waterlogged soils, we do not want it getting into watercourses. 

In those OSR crops which survived, phoma is easy to find and light leaf spot is being detected. Whether or not we can travel to treat it is another matter.

One outcome of the autumn on mixed farms has been an inability to establish new grass leys. The consequence is that old leys have been left in place and attempts are being made to drill second wheats where the new grass was planned.

Enough has been written in these articles about T-sums and aphids so I will leave you with this barley yellow dwarf virus thought; if we had been able to buy Deter (clothianidin)-dressed seed this autumn 90% of it would have been a waste of money!

East: Sean Sparling

AICC/SAS Agronomy (Lincolnshire)

Sean Sparling

Sean Sparling

We’ve had 332mm of rain since 23 September and, with only five scattered dry days in the past 60, there aren’t that many crops to watch for this week’s Crop Watch.

Phoma has been at threshold in OSR since mid-October, but that 332mm, widespread standing water and localised flooding mean little has been sprayed.

Getting caught travelling through standing water and being fined for that particular non-compliance would just be the crowning fly on the autumn 2019 turd don’t you think?

Luckily, light leaf spot spread remains slow and below threshold and phoma isn’t getting any worse and, as previous seasons have shown, there is a good degree of kickback from azoles on phoma so keep the faith and trust them.

It’s way too wet and warm at the moment here to apply propyzamide, but if… no no, I must be positive. When it does go on, it’ll have the fungicide in too.

With less than 30% of my winter wheat in the ground, I remain stoically convinced that we will gradually pick fields off over the coming weeks and months and will still be drilling winter wheat into the middle of February as seed-bed conditions improve.

Seed rates
Seed rates should be kept robust, but not ridiculous – we can make thin crops thicker, but we struggle to make thick crops thinner. Also worth remembering is that winter varieties will still outperform spring ones drilled through to the middle of February – better yields, better quality and a far lower risk of ergot.

Silver linings though. Blackgrass will not be a massive issue in the 2020 winter wheat crop (we planned to drill later so that’s all worked out well), barley yellow dwarf virus should be minimal (those pesky critters can’t transmit the virus if the wheat’s still in the bag), slugs are drowning (they’re resilient but not amphibious) and prices are improving steadily.

However, the Environment Agency and Defra must surely now take full responsibility for the scale of the problem that their strategic and misguided lack of practical watercourse maintenance has caused.

A 1,000 litre drum half filled with sand won’t hold 1,000 litres of water will it – isn’t it obvious why the rivers aren’t getting the water away quickly enough?

It’s going to be a busy spring once the rain stops…

South: Iain Richards

Agrii (Oxfordshire)

Iain Richards

Iain Richards

A few reasonably dry days in the third week of October meant we got 80% of our planned winter barley into seed-beds allowing a pre-emergence before calling a halt to drilling. The headlands won’t be pretty. Still, at least it’s in and coming through.

Which is more than can be said for most of our wheat. No more than two consecutive days without rain for the past month means we only have about 40% of our crop drilled so far.

Frustrating it may be, but it’s worth remembering that in 2012 we drilled a lot of wheat in early December and it did us remarkably well.

We know the key to wheat yields is the weather in May and June rather than when we drill – providing we get a reasonable crop established. This means we are keeping on drilling whenever and wherever we can.

Our imperative is to get the seed covered enough to take the pre-emergence that’s essential if we’re to avoid adding weed-problem insult to late-sowing injury.

At this time of the year we have a good three week window for our pre-emergence spraying and any blackgrass that comes through will be nowhere near as ferocious as earlier. So, getting the crop drilled decently is our only priority.

What’s more, it will continue to be our priority through to the end of January. We’d far rather have wheat to market next autumn than spring barley in an almost inevitable glut.

Spring crop cultivations
And, having been unable to get any of their primary cultivations done, we’re already on the backfoot with our planned spring barley acres, let alone extra ground.

Late wheat sowing means lower disease and pest pressures as well as lower yields, allowing us to cut our early crop protection cloth accordingly. Early and effective crop nutrition will be more important than ever, though.

As will early growth regulation to encourage rooting and tillering while combating the heightened lodging risk from high seed rates and restricted root development.

Although the past three weeks have seen it grow away well, early growth regulation is certainly not on the cards for our OSR. As we deliberately avoided early drilling, we aren’t seeing huge numbers of flea beetle larvae. But slugs are a constant threat with relatively small plants, as are building phoma levels.

Centurion Max (clethodim) on all our worst blackgrass fields has given us the breathing space to hold off on propyzamide treatment until January, which always gives us the best results.

Ahead of this, we will be using prothioconazole for disease control with boron and molybdenum to correct deficiencies revealed by early tissue testing and an insecticide to target flea beetle larvae.

North: Helen Brown

Hutchinsons (Cumbria)

Agronomist Helen Brown

Helen Brown

The recent cold weather and Christmas music on the radio is a heavy reminder that winter is here, and our chances for autumn-drilled crops in Cumbria have pretty much finished, leaving our acreage well below what was planned.

On the positive side, most of our drilled cereals have received an autumn herbicide which is important for annual meadow grass management, and insecticides have been applied where necessary. Also, the recent cold nights have significantly slowed down aphid activity.

Our latest drilled crops are around the 1-2 leaf stage and in some cases have come under huge pressure from crows, some fields have suffered significant plant loss and will have a lower plant population going into spring. These crops will require attention in spring and encouragement to tiller through early nitrogen as ear numbers are the most important factor for crop yield.

This is the last Crop Watch from me until spring, it’s been a difficult harvest and autumn all around the country, especially for those in the areas which have suffered the recent floods. It looks as though we have a busy spring ahead of us and I keep my fingers crossed for some favourable weather next spring.



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