East: Baked soils make for dubious seed-beds


I don’t know whether you’re aware of this – and this could well come as a shock to many – but there is a tiny percentage of the farming community who relish moaning about the weather – more specifically whether it’s dry or whether it’s wet. At present, this minority of farmers are moaning about how dry things are – although I’m certain that once it starts raining, the topic of conversation will simply switch from,

“. . . blimey it’s dry, if we don’t soon get some rain, the autumn’s going to be a disaster – I know what this land’s like!”,


“. . . blimey it’s wet, I hope it stops raining soon or the autumn’s going to be a disaster – I know what this land’s like!”

A combination of no rain since the 21 September and temperatures over 20C almost every day, means that soils are baked dry and the prospects of achieving necessarily “good and fine” seed-beds on the heavy, blackgrass prone land seem a long way away – sadly, some growers are not put off drilling winter wheat in such conditions and into the resulting dubious seed-beds and, as a result, the only sensible plan of waiting for that vital flush on stale seed-beds to ensure a clean start for winter cereals where blackgrass is a major problem, appears to have been dumped in favour of “getting the wheat in while things are dry”.

How short their memories are!

It cannot be said often enough, that the only herbicide on the market that you can truly rely on to control blackgrass is glyphosate. Forcing winter wheat seed into open seed-beds, where the smallest clods are around the size of Wayne Rooney’s head and the only tilth is a layer of dust 5in down after the power harrows have pulverised it – particularly before you have seen that second flush of blackgrass destroyed – is at best ill-advised and at worst likely to cost you serious money in terms of futile chemical applications and the certainty of inevitably poor yields. Surely waiting a fortnight and spending £5/ac (£12/ha) worth of glyphosate to do a 100% job of it prior to drilling, is better than charging in with the drill now and spending upwards of £75/ac (£185/ha) to do what may well turn out to be nothing like enough to limit the inevitable yield damage?

Where there is no talking you out of it, stacked pre-emergence herbicide combinations of most – if not all – of flufenacet, diflufenican, prosulfocarb, pendimethalin, flupyrsulfuron, tri-allate, flurtamone etc must be applied within 3-5 days of drilling – pre emergence means pre emergence – to give you any sort of chance of holding onto the predictably high numbers of blackgrass plants that will appear once the rains fall.

For those growers fortunate enough not to have blackgrass as a major issue, targeted seed rates should now be around the 250/sq m mark – check your thousand grain weights, because with many in the high 50s, drilling the same seed rate as you did last year may well leave you short of the optimum plant numbers you need.

Oilseed rape, although currently showing very little in the way of disease, is showing high levels of leaf miner activity – treatment is rarely justified for this pest and it looks a lot worse than it is. Crops have however been widely affected by both slugs and flea beetle this autumn, with few fields escaping treatment. Despite concerns about resistance, applications of pyrethroids seem to have held the flea beetle in check reasonably well, allowing fields drilled early to grow out of the damage.

Sadly the same is not true for later drilled crops, which are slow to move away and which are being decimated in places – despite multiple applications. With damage on these crops increasing and with the larger cabbage stem flea beetle (CSFB) now beginning to appear widely, the more expensive “non-pyrethroid” measures such as InSyst (acetamiprid) and Biscaya (thiacloprid) are being called upon – although it may well prove to be cheaper to get the glyphosate out and redrill some of the worst affected of the later drilled fields with wheat – knowing when to concede defeat can save you a lot of money in the long-term.

So, as an agronomist who potentially has a fair proportion of his wheat about to be drilled into blackgrass ridden fields – “while it’s dry” – and, at the risk of becoming the scapegoat for causing the inevitable rain which will fall this autumn, I think I’d rather have things wet at the moment – at least that way it would stop people from thinking about attempting to badly drill winter wheat too early on the worst blackgrass land – I know how King Canute felt now!

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