North: Hovering dangerously close to disaster

Saturday 27th October saw the last cereals harvested – spring-sown oats in Lancashire – which actually made a respectable pile all things considered. So it must be better than a month ago, just; at least we’re no longer sinking. Considerable areas of crops on organic moss soils have had to be written off as there is no prospect of harvesting – especially after deep flooding.  There are also some crops of spring beans still awaiting harvest.

Is it disaster? Not quite, but its hovering dangerously close by. So far, the losses from not sowing are smaller than the losses from failed sowings – but there will be a massive penalty if it all ends up as spring crops, which it well could. It’s too early to hoist the white flag and abandon all hope, even though it would be much easier to do so and that might yet prove the best decision.

Most growers got some sowing done last week – for many it was the first sowing this season. We’ve probably got about 25% of the winter cereals in the ground, but that varies from a handful in Cheshire who have nearly sown-up, to most Lancashire farmers who have barely started.

Providing recent sowings emerge unscathed from slugs, we’re in with a fighting chance. Getting another 25% sown would be a great help and reduce the inevitable burden of spring planting. The main thing for growers is not to cause a disaster themselves by forcing seed into a pudding. Therefore it’s a matter of slowly picking off pockets of land fit for sowing and leaving what’s not fit well alone.

The few oilseed rape crops that we do have are truly pathetic. There’s no life in them and they are barely able to sustain four leaves, perhaps 60mm across. It’s obvious that all the soil nitrogen has long since washed away and the fertiliser applied has barely got in. With cold conditions now, it’s a slow job.

We are nursing such crops along with slug pellets, limited weed and insect control, some micronutrients and a bit of TLC. They are so poor that the pigeons have not yet recognised what they are – there’s barely two-pecks in each plant. Slugs and no-shows have taken about 40% of the original sowings, which are now write-offs.

On the cereals sown, I am reluctant to waste any money on pre-em herbicides at this stage and will wait to see “what is a crop” before committing any spending to it. Therefore, I have yet to write a single recommendation for any herbicide on cereal crops so far this season. We could start having a go on the few later this week, if the weather holds out. There’s still plenty of aphids to go at so BYDV will be a risk on any crops without Deter (clothianidin) dressed seed. 

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