North: Harvest a minor miracle

What a difference a year makes! I will not include the growing year 2012-13 as one of my most enjoyable; however very much like in Pandora’s box, from Greek mythology, after all the evils of the year had been released, the only butterfly left in the box was hope!

In short we couldn’t have hoped for a better harvest than we got. Yields outweighed expectations and what looked like impending doom ended up being a pleasing experience. OK, not a barn buster, but at least a minor miracle.

As our European Ministers whittle away at the ag-chemical portfolio and resistance issues loom large, the importance of timely pre- or early post-emergence sprays become vital in wheat and barley. This makes September a crucial month in the north as we fly around encouraging growers to apply the arsenal of herbicides required to tackle difficult grass weeds. For application on difficult blackgrass areas, fortunately not many so far, it is a true witches broth with hardly any room for water in the tank. Fortunately the rain has fallen and we should get good levels of control.

A visit down to Sunk Island to see some straw burning experiments was illuminating. The break in dormancy caused by the burn was very noticeable. With further work being undertaken to see how this affects the seed bank, it will really start to help us understand what advantages controlled burning could provide.

Wheat seed this year is a joy to behold – plump, bold, and full of vigour. This is leading to rapid germination and is the best answer to preventing slug damage. To date slug pellet application has been very limited, as slug numbers have been low. However, this is a very fluid situation and traps are still being set. I would love to say that slug pellets were superb at controlling slugs, but experience has taught me that seed-bed, seed-bed and seed-bed are more important in limiting slug damage and having successful crop establishment.


Winter barley crops are now starting to emerge and if these have not yet been sprayed they are a high priority to get done as soon as possible. Volume remains a popular variety in the North and, providing you hide the seed bill; it is a nice crop to grow. The only niggling issue is the brackling, which for some reason appears worse than normal this year.

After the trials and tribulations of growing rape last year a revised cropping regime will see the acreage fall. The good news is that this has been planned and it is not the whole scale abandonment of drilled crops that happened last year.

This year the key reasons for not growing rape are falling prices, the acceptance that a wheat/rape rotation is not sustainable and the difficulty of growing it in certain wooded areas.

Pre- and early post-emergence sprays have been applied and the results already appear to be mixed, but at least most crops are established and will compete with the few surviving weeds. I am not holding my breath about trying some of the new ‘Astro Kerb’ (propyzamide + aminopyralid) as I believe the one container available is on display with the Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo and both are deemed extremely rare!

Need a contractor?

Find one now
See more