North: Conditions as bad as they get

The shutters have squelched down on autumn sowings. Conditions now are really as bad as they get. Will we ever achieve an economic crop value for next year? Who knows. Next year’s crops are never going to fill the barn and nobody can sell anything forward since they still don’t know whether they’ll have any crops to sell. Most growers are still holding out the hope of sowing some wheat in January or February – at least to use up the stocks of rubbish quality seed that are left.  

Perhaps 50% of winter cereals in Cheshire have been sown and no more than 20% in Lancashire, and even that might be an exaggeration. Not only is it the limited sowings that are of concern; it’s the poor quality. Most has gone in during the last five weeks and in poor conditions – just barely enough to be worthwhile, time will tell.

Much of the wheat seed was of such poor quality that it is barely able to support one leaf from starch reserves and the plants are now struggling to find a second leaf. Unless they make the two leaf stage before really harsh weather, then many will not survive the winter. So its probably better mild and wet than seriously frosty, since that would finish off such feeble crops. Not that this position is good – slugs are still hammering crops both before and after emergence. With such wet weather, pellets are only of limited value since they only last one good dose of rain. Slugs have slowed down a bit but are still making a mess of seed in cloddy open seed-beds (or the brown mushy stuff otherwise described as a seed-bed).

The few oilseed rape crops that we do have are still pathetic; pigeons are now arriving and will quickly peck away the four small leaves that they have got. I’m not really bothered about disease – there’s no point when there is no certainty that crops are viable. Better crops are having flusilazole mixtures with boron and the rest can take their chances.

On the established cereals, we have been out with mixes for weed and aphid control on the few crops that have got up fully in the row, which is only 15% of them. I very much doubt that we’ll be moving on all the other crops now till New Year.

And this is the good news. In Lancashire, potatoes are only about 40% dug. Who knows the fate of the rest – will they ever be dug and what state they will be in if they are.  So the jury is out – did we do right sowing in poor conditions or would they all be best left till spring?  And when we do get to spring, is there any good alternative to spring barley – since any malting premiums will be non-existent with possibly a million hectares yet to be sown.

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