South: Delayed crop ripening

It’s definitely been a case of better late than never in the past month. A good 5-8cm of rain in June has made all the difference to much of our winter wheat and with it our morale.  At least we should now see some decent bushel weight compensation for all those lost tillers.

The much-needed rain has, however, brought us extra harvesting challenges to add to that of highly variable oilseed rape crops.

We’ve seen a major flush of weed growth in the bottom of the thin, but thankfully now very much greener, wheats we have on all but the light ground.

With plenty of available nitrogen in the ground – not to mention stay green fungicides and later-maturing varieties – we’ll also be in for more than our fair share of delayed crop ripening and secondary tillering.

So, as we finish off our oilseed rape desiccation this week, we’ll also need to be prioritising effective glyphosate harvest management to protect Hagbergs, minimise crop moisture levels and transfer to the grain at combining.

Beyond immediate harvesting concerns, another acutely challenging spring and early summer has given us plenty of management lessons in coping with the increasing climatic variability the experts tell us the future holds.

First and foremost we’ve learnt it really pays to do everything possible to ensure good autumn establishment. The contrast between how well established and poorly established cereal and oilseed rape crops have coped with the spring drought couldn’t have been greater.

We’ve also seen the particular value of keeping wheat seed rates up and getting nitrogen on early, where ever there is any doubt about tillering ability or tiller survival. This is highlighted by the extent to which many second wheats are again looking better than first wheats.

The importance of careful management to preserve as much organic matter and biological activity in our soils has been underlined too in far better moisture and nutrient buffering.

Equally apparent has been the value of giving sufficient time for effective cereal pre-planting as well as pre-emergence weed control wherever autumn conditions permit. I dread to think what we’d be facing now, following all the difficulties with Atlantis (iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) spraying windows, if we hadn’t had such success with our autumn weed control.

This season is further sounding a timely warning about the challenge verticillium could well pose for future oilseed rape cropping.  We’re finding infections in almost every crop now, although the extent to which they will affect yield is open to question. This is something we’re going to have to watch very carefully indeed; especially as we currently have no significant varietal resistance or chemical control options at our disposal.

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