North: Winter wheat loses its sparkle in cold and wet

The first part of March proved very wet, with around 75mm of rainfall. Land since then has been drying relatively quickly, which it needs to do as there are a lot of spraying, fertilising and drilling jobs backing up. At the time of writing there is a settled spell of weather forecast, so hopefully fieldwork will start again soon.

A lot of winter wheats have lost their sparkle and have a brown cast due to recent frosts and in some cases prolonged waterlogging.  Often the stressed appearance looks worse than what it is, with new leaf growth looking fine. A spell of frosts in early March has been welcome to reduce disease pressure, namely mildew and yellow rust. Mildew has suffered the most and although yellow rust is still present in crops, the frosts have kept it at a low level in most cases.

Earliest wheats are now at GS30 and will soon be due their growth regulator and potential T0 fungicide. The earliest sown crops are carrying high levels of Septoria tritici and any variety susceptible to rust will receive a T0 fungicide. Temperatures have remained too low for contact acting herbicides such as Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) to be applied and with time marching on it will be a case of fingers crossed as to how well they control remaining blackgrass.

Most wheats have had some early nitrogen or will do so as soon as conditions allow. Only the earliest-sown, thick crops with plenty of organic manures underneath are being deliberately starved of nitrogen now.

Winter barley crops are looking well and it is still amazing to see how well the hybrid barley varieties tiller and make up ground cover from such a low seed rate. Where disease pressure is high, a T0 fungicide is being applied, as with all the recent rains this will have splashed spores around the plant to increase risk further.

The main issue in oilseed rape at the moment is pigeons, pigeons and more pigeons. Damage seems particularly high this year, which is causing a few headaches as to how to treat fields where one part has been grazed to the ground, whilst other parts are almost knee high.

Nitrogen is still being held off on the really large canopies, but most other crops have received their first nitrogen dose now. Light leaf spot is present in all crops, but thankfully recently applied fungicides have reduced the disease pressure for now. As crops go into the rapid phase of stem extension, attention will need to turn to applying plant growth regulators to the more advanced canopies of oilseed rape.

With many itching to be drilling spring crops the focus will be on achieving a good seed-bed, which will be critical not only for good establishment, but also to get the best out of pre-emergence herbicides. For spring beans in particular the pre-emergence herbicide is the main time to control broad-leaved weeds, with only bentazone available post-emergence.

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