South: Clearing the decks for spring barley drilling

Two weeks ago much of our oilseed rape was racing towards stem extension; it looked like we might have to bite the bullet and give wheats carrying worrying levels of active yellow rust a pre-T0; and spring sowing seemed a distant prospect.

A decent spell of cold, dry weather has made all the difference, though. The rape has sat back, septoria and yellow rust aren’t moving up the plants like they were and first few days of March will see us making a determined start on spring barley drilling.

To clear the decks for this, our immediate priority is top dressing the winter barleys, second wheats and backward rape crops. Aided by morning frosts, which haven’t persisted sufficiently to pose any run-off danger, we’re applying 60-70kg/ha of canopy-building nitrogen to any rapes with green area indexes (GAIs) of 1.0 or less – crops we couldn’t sow until well into September, those suffering worse from pigeons and where water logging has taken its toll.

We’re in no rush with our more forward OSRs, though. They have quite enough N in their canopies to be going on with. Nor do most of our first wheats need any early attention either.

With crop prices as dismal as they remain, early attention is something we’re avoiding wherever possible in our crop protection. We’re finding light leaf spot on incubated rape leaves, but it’s not widespread yet. And if the current cold spell proves temporary, stem extension won’t be far away. So we don’t want to rush out with the sprayer only to come back with our stem extension spray little more than 14 days later.

It’s all a matter of being well-prepared and continuing to watch our crops and the weather closely with our cereals too. Knowing we have more than enough inoculum in most, we’re geared-up for a highly curative T0 start to our spraying programme. What we don’t know is how rapidly particular diseases will develop. So we’re keeping as flexible as we can, gathering all the intelligence we need on diseases, weeds and growth stages, so we can make our final T0 decisions and deliveries for the greatest all-round value just before they go on. To do otherwise in today’s climate – both economic and environmental – would be madness.

With such a large acreage to get in, we’re not hanging about with spring barley drilling. The ground is wet at depth, but where it was cultivated in the autumn the surface has dried out nicely. Lack of frost tilth means ploughed ground will need a careful secondary cultivation to avoid bringing-up wet clods.

How we do this, field by field, will be as important as when. As usual, most of our seed – mainly Propino for the local export market – is going with a good dose of N,P,K, S and Mg to give it the best chance of getting away and minimise the risk of a dry time; something we could so easily have after such a wet winter.

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