East: Slugs, slugs and more bl***y slugs!

There are two types of farmer – those with blackgrass and those without. Those with require nerves of steel, patience by the bucket load and the ability to laugh in the face of adversity. Those without should count themselves extremely lucky.

Unfortunately, all of mine fall into the former category and therefore, in order to avoid unmanageable levels completely swamping any early drilled cereal crops, stale seed-beds have been used to the max with at least tow and in many cases three flushes already being dealt with. As a result, there is still plenty of winter wheat drilling to be done.

The undeniable truth is that in order to attempt any worthwhile control of this pernicious weed, 99% of the work must be done before the crop goes in the ground, so stale seed-beds and a steady nerve are prerequisites on such farms. There are those growers – who clearly think they’re still in the latter category – and who, blinded by the warm, dry conditions in early to mid September decided to “get on”. Glyphosate remains their best chance of success in some of the worst fields.

Having said that, where stale seed-beds were achieved  and subsequent combinations of flufenacet, prosulfocarb, flupyrsulfuron, diflufenican  and tri-allate have been employed within the first 3-4 days following drilling, despite the huge flushes of the last 14 days or so, control seems to be very good. If robust stacks of residual herbicides have already been employed, once any remaining emerged blackgrass reaches the two leaf average stage, that would be the time to apply the likes of Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron).

You stand far more chance of killing what’s there with a contact material while it is still small, but remember to make sure there isn’t another flush about to emerge just below the surface and to apply to a dry and drying leaf,  at 12kph maximum speed, allow at least 2-3 hours of dry weather to follow application and –  possibly most importantly –  keep your fingers crossed.

There are high levels of aphid activity in the field – mostly bird cherry, grain and rose grain, all of whom carry persistent virus in their saliva, along with peach potato aphid, so barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) protection needs to be put in place as soon as crops reach two leaves – particularly if you didn’t use a Deter (clothianidin) seed dressing.

Using the day degree principle, where you take the mean temperature of every day, deduct 3C and then add up the remainder until you reach 170 –  this is your trigger for applying pyrethroids. The count should start six weeks after drilling if you’ve used Deter and from emergence if you haven’t. Once a pyrethroid has been applied, the count should start again once seven days have elapsed since application.

Slug activity has rapidly increased over the last 10 days or so and juvenile slugs of less than 1mm long appear to be showing up everywhere from the limestone heath to the heavy clays. You therefore can’t afford to let your guard down by simply assuming that if it’s light land it won’t have a problem, because the chances are it will. You need to get your slug traps out and monitor the situation on a twice daily basis – don’t just rely upon your weekly or fortnightly visits from your agronomist –  because once slugs start they can cause significant damage in a very short space of time – particularly if some of the numbers I’m finding are anything to go by. Just remember the restrictions on metaldehyde and use ferric phosphate-based pellets as well.

Another pest that has shown up in Lincolnshire once again is bean seed fly. The damage from this pest, which feeds on germinating cereal seedlings, is that you will find one leaf plants chewed off at or just below ground level, they’re active for around three weeks and will not hurt plants which have 2-3 leaves or more because the stems will then be too thick for them to chew through. Your pyrethroid application for BYDV control can do some good, but as most of you will have allowed for higher losses than normal thanks to the initially dry weather and the subsequently wet weather, you’ve probably got enough extra plants in the field to stand a bit of a hit from this particular pest.

In oilseed rape the phoma levels are increasing thanks to the recent wet weather, but as yet I haven’t seen levels close to 10% infection anywhere, and with conditions turning a lot cooler, the likelihood of the stem canker phase becoming an issue is rapidly dwindling. One good robust dose of a decent fungicide like prothioconazole in the next 10 days or so will be all that is needed to give a yield response and protect crops for 5-6 weeks against any subsequent infections – choose your weapon wisely and go use the best product with the best disease profile – simple.

There is an old saying, “Lord grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, the knowledge to change that which I can and the wisdom to know the difference” – that could have been written for farmers!

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