South: Spring barley drilling only 20% complete

With even much of our downland staying surprisingly wet, it’s been a frustrating time for spring barley drilling. Through February and into March everything was drying out nicely enough to get going with careful seed-bed working in the right fields. But then it turned damp and overcast again.

So just ahead of mid-month only around 20% of our acreage is drilled-up.

We’re in no rush, though. With the capacity we have we’ve time enough to spare yet. And the very last thing we want to do is put seed into wet ground smeared and compacted by inappropriate fieldwork. Nor do we want to bring-up the plasticine-like soil there is at depth, which will be almost impossible to turn into the quality of seed-bed we need; especially as robust pre-emergence herbicides will be essential to deal with current levels of brome and blackgrass.

As well as patience to get the right conditions – which, with high pressure set to build, could well be with us even as you read this – top down working will be very much the order of the day. That way too we’ll keep a decent reservoir of moisture where it will be most needed should the spring turn very dry, as we know it can easily do so.

Although our winter wheat and oilseed rape are starting to respond to the extra warmth and daylight, most crops are so well grown we’ve been in no hurry with their spring nitrogen. Our second and later drilled wheats have had their first split, as has most of our OSR. But it will be nearer the end of the month before we get nitrogen onto much of the first wheat that remains so tiller-rich.

Unless we see significant tiller-shedding in the next week or so, we’ll be making a robust start on plant growth regulation with the T0’s, which we’ll be targeting firmly at the significant amounts of septoria we’re still seeing across most of the wheats. At the same time, we’ll be keeping a careful eye on yellow rust development. It’s nowhere near as active as it was before Christmas, but the winter hasn’t been sufficient to kill it.

I’m certain a curative triazole will be vital alongside multi-site protection here. Which azole we include, though, will depend on the septoria/rust balance. And on our desire to leave ourselves space to rotate as well as stack azoles with an SDHI at T1.

Thankfully, despite considerable leaf incubation, I’ve yet to see any light leaf spot that causes me concern. So we should be able to hold off on a fungicide until the optimum stem extension to green bud PGR timing, sticking to metconazole or tebuconazole for the greatest cost:benefit wherever possible.

Fingers firmly crossed too, as modern well-branched hybrids at today’s much lower plant populations are known to be at far less risk from pollen beetle than the high density conventional crops of the past, we may well not need an extra insecticide spray this season either.

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