North: Farm finances discussed in volatile climate

At long last we have had some frosts. Nowhere near enough to kill overwintering diseases, but a step in the right direction.

Farm finances are a hot topic, with everyone scrutinizing their potential inputs and striving for savings. You should never start a growing campaign with a fixed budget, as this is a fools approach in our variable climate. If you want to be more targeted and have a higher risk strategy, then there are potential savings to be made. The first step in this direction would be to have a protracted cold spell, which I fear is unlikely now.

Wheat crops that have remained out of the water look well, but Leeds has a wonderful population of mildew giving it an insipid look! Yellow rust can be found if you go looking in hotspots and septoria is omnipresent. What does all this mean? In short, keep the sprayer in the shed and the earliest anyone should look to tackle rust and mildew is the end of March. In an ideal world, I might even wait to T1 to tackle septoria, but seldom is this the only threat.

Trace elements are the hot topic in many of the glossy trade mags that drop through the door. I worry about manganese, as getting it on early enough is the key here and with limited weather windows, I gear many growers up to apply at the first opportunity. As for the other trace elements, years of cynicism have left me with little faith in seeing any return and with wheat prices likely to be two figures at harvest, none will be used.

Winter barley crops are very forward and mildew is common. I can’t see us being able to avoid spraying in late March to control disease and growth regulate the crop. The use of T0 sprays in winter barley is standard practice in Scotland and with higher input feed barleys dominating the acreage, I think this could become standard for us.

Oilseed rape crops have, up to these last few days, avoided many of the pigeon problems that we often have. The past tense is the key here, as they are now ravenously devouring rape crops. On the bright side, this might remove the abundant light leaf spot and phoma evident in many crops and also act as a good growth regulator! Unfortunately, stem extension has started in many crops and grazed flower buds are usually not good news. As for the outstanding sprays of bifenox and clorpyralid that are still to do, then good luck.

Winter beans look extremely well and carbetamide is finally being applied to finish the weed control program.

Spring drilling seems a distant dream on the heavy land, but those on lighter soils are starting to get itchy feet. Remember soil conditions are the key, not calendar date!

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