East: Frosts and rain cause outstanding jobs to stack up

Monday the 29 February saw 16C and it really felt as though spring had sprung – barley and beans were being drilled, late-drilled wheats were being top dressed, I was walking fields in my walking boots with my sleeves rolled up – since then we’ve had three consecutive -4C frosts, 30mm of rain and it hasn’t been back above 5C.

With this in mind, the jobs are already beginning to stack up and we’re not even halfway through March. Outstanding Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) tickets mock me every time I walk on to farms – on those few farms where we feel it may still give some semblance of blackgrass control that is – because getting days with a dry target, light winds, a dry forecast – where the blackgrass isn’t blue and flat to the floor . . .  ah well.

Winter wheat is at GS 21-30 and with leaf 5 out and leaf 4 emerging in the forward stuff, the T0 fungicide is now imminent. Septoria and yellow rust are widespread, and with my aversion to applying a “sniff” of triazole at this T0 timing (this will be my ninth season without using low triazole doses at T0 for fear of increasing the onset of resistance – a policy which now seems to be being adopted by the wider industry) I will be applying chlorothalonil plus strobilurin.

The strobilurin greens the crop up by forcing it to begin scavenging nitrogen, easily drying out the yellow rust and giving a good 3-4 weeks protection against reinfection. The chlorothalonil has multisite protectant activity, which coats the canopy to stop that Septoria spreading further – but choose your weapon wisely, because not all multisite products are as well formulated or as effective as one another. It’s doing a vital job so don’t just go for the cheapest!

Stem-based browning is also widespread and this will need to be accounted for with the T1 fungicide application – there are very few varieties on the Niab list with a rating higher than 5-6 for eyespot and following the mild wet winter we’ve just gone through, eyespot is a real threat once again this season.

Also as a result of the mild winter, the only backward crops out there are those drilled after sugar beet, everything else looks far too thick – but looks can be deceptive – so, as with any other year, dissecting plants in the field will be the only way of determining the growth stage accurately. Don’t try to farm by calendar date!

Where possible, 50 kg of nitrogen has been applied to more backward crops, but as yet nothing has been applied elsewhere.

Winter barley crops are between GS27-30 and look appalling, dreadfully yellow and ragged in almost every field. However, once again looks can be deceiving, and when you’re in these patches, if you peel off the older leaves (it’s invariably these older leaves which are making the crops look so bad), the new growth is perfectly happy and green. This is another consequence of the mild winter, where instead of laying flat to the floor and dying out of sight, these older leaves are still standing proud and dying in full view of everyone. The high mildew levels in barley pre-Christmas seem to have subsided without intervention thanks to those few frosts, but this disease may well resurface as the season progresses. Nitrogen applications are beginning.

Light leaf spot is trying its hardest to set off in the oilseed rape despite the cold conditions and therefore applications of suitable fungicides are being applied where required – in with applications of clopyralid where asteraceae (for example, mayweed) remain an issue. I am using Galera (clopyralid + picloram) only as a last resort in fields where cleavers pose a threat to the crop, due to the 36 months following crop restrictions on anything other than cereals and OSR. With cereal prices where they are, who knows which other crops will become viable between now and March 2019, and if you’ve applied Galera, you may miss out on an opportunity because of those label restrictions. First dose of nitrogen plus sulphur has now been applied. Cabbage stem flea beetle larvae easily found – hopefully the pigeons that are busily eating the leaves will be eating a few of the larvae as well!

Spring barley is emerging where it was drilled three or four weeks ago and, as in wheat and barley crops at the moment, aphids are beginning to appear. The risk of barley yellow dwarf virus infection seems high this spring, not least because I’m finding rose grain aphids, grain aphids and peach potato aphids on a daily basis, all three of which carry persistent virus in their saliva. A suitable pyrethroid plus manganese will be applied where necessary as crops becomes visible in rows.

So it doesn’t feel much like spring here at the moment with high winds, top temps of 5C and over 30mm of rain in the last 36 hours . . .actually . . . it feels exactly like spring!


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