North: Pigeons picking oilseed rape fields to decimate

The recent cold snap was not really the “beast from the east”, but at the very least a snap of winter. Prior to this spell of weather, disease levels were starting to build up and a re-run of 2014 was on the cards. Only time will tell if this weather intervention will have an impact on disease build up for the coming season.

Pigeons are proving to be the connoisseurs of oilseed rape, carefully selecting fields they wish to decimate, whilst leaving others alone. Light leaf spot now grabs most of the headlines and is causing near panic in academic circles, as numerous pathologists tell us of impending doom. Fortunately, snow, frost and pigeons mean that this is currently only an academic discussion.

Late February will start to see wheels turning and action might happen. Overall rape looks well, which is fortunate as the there is little enthusiasm to be garnered in the price. Can we save any money on inputs? I think nitrogen is one variable that might be tweaked down a little, and I doubt two sclerotinia sprays will be the order of the day.

Winter wheat on the whole looks very well, with septoria and mildew to die for! Grassweed control appears to be good (famous last words). The usual broad-leaved weeds have escaped the tsunami of autumn treatments, with cleavers and groundsel being the leading players. Early nitrogen will not be required for many crops and March will hopefully be the starting month for top dressing. With an increasing shift to varieties with weaker mildew resistance, I think this will be a year where the disease may sneak through a couple of fungicide programs. Nitrogen rates are likely to remain roughly the same as the break even ratio will still be in excess of 200kgs/ha for most crops.

Can we save any money on growing wheat? Unfortunately you have already picked your variety, and if the ratings for diseases are low then you have written your fungicide cheque last September. I am not of the school that believes two new SDHI products are a must. Thick crops and wet weather favour disease development, poor timing and inadequate chemistry create epidemics.

I appreciate the annual round of product shortages, due to myriad of excuses that a politician would be proud of, will be announced. This will spur on panic buying and the problem compounded; such is life. My suggestion would be to cover the flag leaf with the best and most flexible products by booking forward. As for the rest, ensure robust well timed applications that can be bought as required. Easy to write on a snowy day in February, I know.

Winter barley crops are now starting to sport their winter coats of bright yellow; which a combination of frost killing diseased leaves, manganese and lack of nitrogen combine together to produce this seasonal colour. Again, diseases were developing well prior to the cooler weather and will have at least stopped now. I think prothioconazole is a good base for barley fungicide programs. What you add to this is a bit of a floating feast and in short you pay your money and take your pick.

Beans are sitting pretty, having emerged on the whole, very well. Weed control remains a bit of a curate’s egg and there will be some head scratching over this issue later in spring.

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