North: Crops better than last year

By Patrick Stephenson

So far, 2014 has certainly broken the shackles of 2012, being mild and very, very wet. Crops on the whole look very well and are certainly a lot more pleasurable to look at than last year’s miserable concoction. Chances for land work are very limited; although the fields have shed water very well and walk easily.

Oilseed rapes look very proud and plans are being hatched to apply an early growth regulator. The majority of this will coincide with a light leaf spot top up spray. Having sprayed fields in November with propyzamide, the results are now clear to see. On the whole control levels are good, but worryingly there are some plants with deep roots that have escaped the net. These pose a real problem as the following wheat will be under considerable weed burden. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot hit the high levels of blackgrass control in rape to help us contain the problem.

Stem extension has started in the forward rape crops, along with flowering of the spring rape volunteers! Autumn spray programs have worked well and the over spraying this spring will be limited. Charlock and runch have loved the mild winter and wave at me in odd fields. Here, I chant a mantra of “there will be hard frost” knowing this will not be the case and the worst areas will be treated with bifenox with oil.

This statement of intent to encourage my growers to blow the dust off the sprayer and seek action is all irrelevant at the moment as the rain continues to fall. This is particularly relevant for wheat bulb fly. Egg hatch has started and this means it is time to apply chlorpyrifos. Although the risk is likely to be low as egg counts are down and many crops have multiple tillers, for backward crops in ‘hot spot areas’ there is still a serious risk. The loss of dimethoate, as a ‘dead heart spray’, may not be a disaster, but it did give you the comfort of knowing there was a plan B, all be it weak.

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February is a great month to assess the real extent of the grassweed burdens on the farm. Following good comprehensive autumn spray programs you can now see the fall out of what remains. Unfortunately, this can often be disheartening, but it is vital to plan ahead. Testing of the remaining plants for resistance could help you plan a positive route for the future.

I can only see the “forward crops” creating a soup of potential disease, but every frost that we have ensures that epidemics are delayed. The sad fact is that the sprayer will be busy this year and timely T0 sprays will ease pressures later in the season. On a more positive note there should be no rush to apply the first nitrogen dressing.

The wet weather will affect the amount of available sulphur and boron as these are very leachable. Rape is the primary benefactor of boron so should be targeted as appropriate. Sulphur deficiency, which affects more crops, is more closely linked to soil type and organic manure history. Wet Decembers and Januarys tend to affect a broader range of soils types including clays. I appreciate most people have fertiliser in store, but check with your advisor to make sure you are covered.

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