Growers struggle with disease control at harvest

Crops are 10 days later than normal across England and Wales after the cool spring and early summer, and recent wet weather means fusarium is a concern in many wheats.

Oilseed rape is also behind in Scotland. Wheat and spring barley are only at early grain fill, so could still benefit from any sunshine.

Wheat prospects are mixed further south, says Susan Twining, farming systems principal consultant at ADAS.

“England and Wales had an unprecedented wet April to June with 290mm of rain, twice the 30-year average. But most growers managed reasonable disease control until the very wet flowering period.”

Reports of fusarium are increasing. As well as shriveled grains, the increased mycotoxin risk is a worry. “Risk assessments are going to be critical this year.”

Half the usual amount of sunshine during June and the first half of July could affect grain fill. It was also cool, which has been linked to lower Hagbergs.

“Overall, the UK should achieve somewhere close to the average 8t/ha, but I doubt we’ll see many record yields.”

About 50% of the oilseed rape crop has some lodging after lush spring growth, Ms Twining reports. ADAS trials have shown 15-50% loss, so yields could slip back to the 3.3t/ha long-term average, she believes.

Barley prospects look decent, thanks to good tiller survival in both winter and spring varieties.

In mid-Scotland, oilseed rape was ready for spraying off at the start of this week, says Peter Lindsay, area manager at SAC’s Perth office.

“Spraying has been a challenge – we’ve seen some yellow rust in Oakley and septoria coming in generally. But the potential is there, especially if we get a good spell of sunshine to help boost grain fill. We’ve not seen fusarium yet, but it will be lingering.”
Peter Lindsay

“There is some sclerotinia present in crops that missed a mid-flower spray or are in susceptible rotations. A lot of crops are flatter, but the potential is there – we had a long flowering time and good pod set.”

A promising winter barley crop is mostly standing, despite the very wet recent weeks – 70-100mm of rain fell in July. Spring varieties look more variable, with blind sites common and white patches appearing in wet land. “But lighter soils look very good,” says Mr Lindsay.

Forward winter wheats have only just finished flowering. “Spraying has been a challenge – we’ve seen some yellow rust in Oakley and septoria coming in generally. But the potential is there, especially if we get a good spell of sunshine to help boost grain fill. We’ve not seen fusarium yet, but it will be lingering.”

Mapping out the 2012 harvest

Barley pleases

The first of Peter Sands’ Volume winter barley came off at about 9t/ha at Ivy Dene, Brewood, Staffordshire, on Monday, slightly above expectations. “It always looked well – the yield is very pleasing,” says Mr Sands.

His 900ha of wheat is a different story. Fusarium is easy to find in the ears, with all varieties – Grafton, JB Diego, Oakley and Humber – similarly affected. “It could knock 10-15% off the yield.

“All our wheat is feed, so hopefully mycotoxins won’t be too much of a problem. But we obviously won’t match last year’s record of about 4t/acre.”

His 400ha of oilseed rape is still a fortnight off. Lodging is evident where sewage sludge was applied last autumn, so diquat is replacing glyphosate to desiccate the worst areas to control cranesbill, which is coming through in places.

“We had a lot of 2t/acre crops last year. I’d say we’ll be back to 35cwt.”

David White’s biggest fear at Hawk Mill Farm, Little Wilbrahams, Cambridgeshire, is loss of quality and mycotoxin problems in his 200ha of Solstice and Gallant milling wheats.

He hasn’t seen much fusarium yet. “We followed our usual T3 with a second ear wash T4, which I hope will have made a difference.”

Reduced germination in 60ha of Cassata and Tipple malting barleys is also a worry. One field of Cassata is flat and the Tipple looks weak.

“We will cut when any crop falls below 22% moisture and send it to Camgrain. We will hope for some dry wheat later to store on farm.”

Despite more than 25mm of rain a week recently, his 75ha of desiccated oilseed rape is mostly standing. Combining should start in the first week of August, 10 days later than last year. Wheat is unlikely to be ready before 10 August.

“Yields have gone from possibly spectacular to average-to-good. Poor bushel weights and blind sites on cereal ears are partly to blame, and rape oil percentage and seed size could be down.”

In Lincolnshire, Ben Atkinson estimates his 930ha of oilseed rape is 14-18 days behind last year.

“We started swathing and desiccating on 16 July. We usually swath half, but will do 75% to bring harvest forward. We want to create some stale seed-beds to keep blackgrass and volunteer oilseed rape to a minimum.”

His 1,300ha of wheat, a mix of Santiago, Conqueror and Oakley, could be even more delayed than the rape. March to June rainfall at Grange Farm, Rippingale, was 333mm in 2011 compared with 86mm in 2010.

“We’ve been lucky compared to some. The main concern has been disease pressure and keeping spray intervals sensible. The cost has been enormous. Even though some crops have had six fungicides, fusarium is visible in places, but I’ve seen worse.”

Travelling could be a problem though both combines are tracked. Unloading on headlands may be necessary, Mr Atkinson adds.

“Overall, yield potential has been knocked due to disease and lack of sunshine. But at least the markets are buoyant.”

After chasing disease, mainly yellow rust, all season in his Oakley, which makes up the bulk of the 175ha of wheat at Field House Farm, near Driffield in Yorkshire, Richard Beachell expects average yields.

He’s thankful for that, given last year’s droughted output, current buoyant prices – and the weather.

“We’ve had more than half a year’s rain – 400mm – since the beginning of April. There’s quite a lot of fusarium coming in, but there are a lot more heads this season and they are bigger.

“If we get a good spell of sunshine it could still do a lot of good,” he says. “We usually start cutting wheat in mid-August but it will be a bit later this year.”

Wheats suffered

Excalibur and Compass OSR and Cassata winter barley are about 10 days behind normal, he estimates. “We’d hope to start cutting the barley in the first week of August.”

He expected to start spraying the rape with glyphosate this week. “It looks a bit tossed and turned but everything else is standing – all crops had a really good growth regulator programme.”

Edward Tupper’s wheats have suffered in July monsoons at Littleton Farm, Upwaltham in West Sussex. “We’ve had 6.5in this month alone,” he says.

“The wheat was looking very good earlier on, but we’ve had no sunshine. Crops are now disease-ridden, there’s no green leaf left and bushel weights will suffer.” Pink grains caused by fusarium are easy to find.

SDHI chemistry was tried on two large blocks of wheat at T2, but it is still too early to see if they offer any yield advantage over the usual triazole-based programme, says Mr Tupper.

Given the potential quality problems, great care will be taken to sample the Solstice and Claire so it can be separated in store as required.

On the plus side, spring barley looks good, with Propino slightly cleaner than Tipple. “Both are hanging on which is a good sign.”

Oilseed rape also looks promising – harvest will start this week. “I’m hopeful for above-average yields – it had a long flowering period and good pod set,” says Mr Tupper.

More on this topic

For the latest rolling news on this year’s harvest see our Harvest Highlights page