North: Missed crop spraying chances help weeds and disease

Land is slowly beginning to dry up after more than three months where hardly a field operation has taken place. Ploughing has resumed on more free draining soil types and a bit of spraying has also been possible.

Many fields have straw tidal marks to show where water has been stood, but it has been nowhere near as bad as others have experienced further west and north. Generally, all crops look well and a very mild winter to date has allowed crop growth to continue to the point where even mid to late September-sown oilseed rape is well established.

One of the main problems of the late autumn is the huge amount of planned crop spraying for November and December that has not been applied. This has implications for blackgrass control in all crops and disease control in oilseed rape.

In winter wheat, the pre-emergence residual herbicides have worked very well at controlling blackgrass and where follow up herbicides were applied last autumn, overall blackgrass control is good. For the remaining crops it is now a case of switching to plan B and move to the more contact-acting herbicides such as Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) to try and finish off the remaining blackgrass. However, with the winter so mild, the blackgrass has kept on growing like the crops, so they too are now well tillered. Applying these contact acting herbicides in good growing conditions will be crucial to try and maximise their efficacy.

Disease levels in winter wheat are high for the time of year, with plenty of septoria on the older leaves, along with mildew on susceptible varieties. Yellow rust is present, but so far is at relatively low levels, which is surprising considering how favourable the winter has been for this disease to keep on developing. Hopefully the levels of rust will remain low so pre-T0 fungicides are not required. Although disease levels are high, making season-long decisions now on fungicides is pointless, as a long period of cool, dry weather could soon reduce disease pressure and hence the level of fungicide input required.

Winter barley crops look well and are not showing the usual signs of suffering from the winter blues for the time of year. They look very healthy, green and are well tillered. Like winter wheat the barley crops are carrying a lot of disease with mildew being number one culprit. However, net blotch levels on susceptible varieties are at the highest levels I have seen for many years.

Oilseed rape crops generally look well, although pigeons in the past month are now causing some serious damage. In early-sown crops, such grazing is not causing too much concern. Blackgrass control has been good where all the planned autumn herbicides were applied. However, a lot of residual herbicides, such as propyzamide, were only applied in January, so it is too early to tell the level of success of grassweed control.

Where no autumn fungicide was applied, phoma will no doubt have caused some yield penalty. Light leaf spot is easy to find now and at various levels in all crops, so a fungicide will soon be required to keep it under control.

Several growers are itching to start applying nitrogen to crops. Whilst some backward crops will warrant some early nitrogen, it is a case of being patient, as there is still chance for some cold and wet weather, which will cause leaching and the crop will not utilise it. Holding off applying nitrogen to thick, lush crops of oilseed rape and early-sown first wheats will be required, which really will be a test of patience.

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