North: Wheat area set for an increase

No doubt I am risking the wrath of the weather Gods, but we have had a wonderful drilling time. Conditions are dry, but we have had sufficient water to get most things moving. The total area sown to winter oilseed rape has fallen slightly as low prices and single farm payment implications have altered rotations.

The hot topic coming into the drilling period was the potential risk of flea beetle damage. There is little doubt that there were more preventative insecticides applied than in previous seasons. As usual, at this time of year, our biggest pests are either slugs or game birds. I will put my hand up and admit we have been lucky and the damage due to flea beetle has been very limited. The first volunteer cereals have been treated with a graminicides and the blackgrass targeted clethodim is now being applied to rape. Currently pre-emergence and early post-emergence herbicides appear to be working well on broad-leaved weeds.

My growers still fear Biblical proportions of rain and as a consequence we are nearly drilled up. I have tried locking them up, hiding the tractor keys and altering the calendar, but to no avail. Good weather is just too much of a temptation. Many of you in blackgrass controlled areas will despair at this and we are having more problems. This year we did at least get some stale seed-bed policy implemented and a full pre-emergence herbicide program coupled with moisture. I still fear that re-drilling will have to be done in some cases, but let’s wait and see.

Slugs are present and there are isolated areas of damage. Pellet application has not been profligate, but is now underway and will no doubt increase over the coming weeks. Last year saw a near record area of wheat planted by my clients as they capitalised on the fallow land from the 2012/13 season. This year Potato crops are being lifted in ideal conditions and, couple this with an early maize harvest and the wheat acreage will again be high. This is not surprising following discussions with clients stating that “the wheat yielded the right side of average” and that is as close as you will get to a confession of good yields! As such, wheat remains the engine of most rotations for our clients.

Winter barley is also drilled up and the area is dominated with varieties Glacier and Volume. Pre-emergence herbicides are, in my opinion, vital in winter barley as the post-emergence alternatives are very limited. We will, however, be trying the new product Tower, a mix of chlortoluron, pendimethalin and diflufenican, which could be very useful for many of our clients. Oats are being drilled and then the debate will start on “how early can I drill beans?” Throw me the keys please!

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