North: Drier conditions needed before nitrogen applications

Driving around the country, there are hardly any changes in the landscape from a month ago. We had a week without rain, which felt wonderful, but in practical terms have not had much to show for it – a bit of ploughing here and there, but nothing fit to drill. I certainly have not seen any worked ground and for the most part soils are still wet and cold, so patience is the order of the day.

A few growers have managed to get P and K onto winter crops, but most are waiting for drier conditions before venturing out with nitrogen. Considering the wet winter, the autumn crops are not looking bad at all and even winter barleys are not as yellow as might be expected. They, and the later-sown wheats, will be first to get a dressing when conditions allow.

The short period of frost that we had has killed off mildew in barley, and disease levels are quite low. I am inclined to think a two-spray fungicide programme will be enough for most of these crops. Wheat on the other hand is carrying a fair bit of septoria and I am planning a T0 with Cherokee (chlorothalonil + cyproconazole + propiconazole) or similar.

There is a lot of debate about the relative depth of roots this year, and obviously the roots have not had to go deep in search of moisture. I like to split plant growth regulator between T0 and T1 and will follow that plan again this year. My weed control in winter wheat will be a tidy-up of spring-germinating weeds, as everything was treated in the autumn, and hopefully brome treatments will only be needed around the field margins.

Winter oilseed rape has been hammered by pigeons as usual in January and February, and as usual my provisional plan for tebuconazole’s growth-regulatory effects will not be needed. In fact, at this stage we can find the buds if we peel away the developing leaves but they are well covered still. Crop populations are very good and little has been lost to slugs, pigeons or water-logging, and the levels of light leaf spot are tolerable for the moment.

All the spray recommendations will be made with the price of grain firmly in mind and taking account of disease pressure, varietal resistance and yield potential. These crops will be going onto a bearish market and there are already farmers (in perhaps the more marginal arable areas) who have been advised not to grow spring barley for the malting market.

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