South: All change for a completely different season.

It’s hard to believe February’s already arriving. The few frosts we’ve had so far have done little more than steady our winter crops, leaving them thicker and lusher than we’ve seen for many years. What a contrast to this time last season.

Our key priority for both wheat and rape this year is clearly holding them back. A far more encouraging position than we’ve had of late, but one which poses its own unique set of challenges.

Perhaps the biggest of these is spring nitrogen. In the past, dare I say it, things were simple. We just altered our Nitram timings. But these days we have a serious dilemma. Mainly because we’re using nitrogen:sulphur compounds which come in fixed ratios and are already on-farm, ready and waiting.

We have to get a decent amount of sulphur onto our crops early. And, recent experience has taught us the drought insurance value of early nitrogen, but about the last thing most of our crops need if they’re to stay standing is early N.

At the moment I can’t see us putting any fertiliser on our wheat or oilseed rape until the end of February at the earliest. At the same time, we’ll probably be splitting the first dose so we get enough S on early without going over the top on the N. With the lack of individual nutrient flexibility we have these days, this is our only real option.

Plant growth regulation will also give us far more of a challenge this season. Bearing in mind that most of the varieties we’re growing have yet to experience major lodging pressures in commercial practice, we’re planning particularly robust PGR programmes.

Even though I’ve walked a good 5000 acres in the past couple of weeks, I haven’t been able to find any disease worth speaking of in our OSR. Combined with very long leaves on most of our crops, this means we’re facing little real stem canker risk. Subsequently, we won’t have to compromise maximum plant growth regulation for sufficient disease eradication in our pre-stem extension fungicide choice.

Where we will need good early disease eradicant action, though, is in our wheats. They’ve hardly lost any lower leaves since November and, while mildew levels have subsided nicely, they’re carrying a huge reservoir of Septoria. Susceptible varieties are also coming through the winter with worrying amounts of yellow rust. We simply can’t afford to be chasing disease. Which means we’ll be starting off with a robust, well-timed, decent rate T0 including a major triazole component.

Black-grass is another particular concern. We made the most of a good Atlantis spraying window to compensate for this season’s generally poor pre-em control. Even so large amounts of tillering black-grass seem to be coming through the winter. Thankfully, our good thick crops should compete very well – pointing-up the importance of growing the most competitive wheat varieties in the future.

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