North: Dry weather will bring a busy start to spring

Generally, most crops look well despite some cold and wet weather yellowing some of the older leaves. The past month has been frustrating because just as land begins to dry, another batch of rain arrives. As a result it will be a busy start to spring when land finally does dry, as a lot of compound fertiliser still needs to be applied, along with spraying, nitrogen and spring drilling.

Early-sown winter wheat crops look exceptionally well, but are harbouring high levels of Septoria tritici and in some cases mildew. Surprisingly, the frosts seem to have had little effect on the mildew, so this could be one that may require specific control this spring. It will be a case of holding off applying early nitrogen to these thicker earlier sown crops.

Later-sown wheats look more weathered than their earlier-sown counterparts, but at this stage this is largely cosmetic. Some early nitrogen on these and second wheats will be required as soon as weather conditions improve. Blackgrass control overall is very pleasing, with mild weather during late November and early December allowing extra opportunities to hit the weed when it was small. Any outstanding applications of contact acting herbicides such as Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) will be applied as soon as there is a spell of good growing conditions.

Winter barley crops have the usual yellow cast for the time of year, which makes it look worse than it actually is. Trying to apply manganese on lighter soil types has been key to prevent real crop suffering. Again, mildew is very evident in varieties such as Cassia and Glacier, but a whole range are susceptible so be on the lookout. Net blotch and brown rust are present, but overall disease levels are not as high compared to last year.

Oilseed rape crops that had large canopies going into winter have lost a lot their older leaves and now appear more manageable. Care will still be needed not to push them too hard and too early with lots of nitrogen, otherwise severe crop lodging is likely. Light leaf spot is just beginning to appear in crops, albeit at low levels. With many autumn fungicides delayed until December perhaps this has delayed the appearance of this disease so far.

Now is a good time to be planning any last chance control of weeds such as mayweeds, thistles and cleavers.  With ever tightening product labels the window to apply herbicides such as Shield (clopyralid) and Galera (clopyralid + picloram) is very small, so be at the ready. Blackgrass control so far looks very good in most fields.

The area of spring beans is higher than in recent years, mainly due to Greening rules, but also an ever increasing amount of land being spring cropped due to high levels of blackgrass. A good pre-emergence herbicide is essential for broad-leaved weed control in spring beans as there is only bentazone post-emergence, which has a limited weed spectrum. The message for all spring crops is that it will be better to be patient and wait to achieve a good seed-bed rather than go too early and force them in.

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