South: Dry winter poses management headaches

Another season begins, and already there is talk of drought and water shortages.  It went until April last year before we talked of such things!

The unusually dry winter, following on from a dry year last year, is going to pose many headaches as far as decision making is concerned. The first of these will be fertiliser timing. Soil reserves, with no excess winter rainfall, are bound to be higher than normal. Crops are also much more forward and thick than this time last year so care will be needed as far as timing is concerned.

Winter barley, we know, cannot compensate for a shortage of tillers in the way that wheat can and as a second cereal will not have access to large reserves of soil nitrogen. It therefore needs fertilising as per a normal year, with the first dose going on end Feb/early March. I will apply about a third of the total dose then. Second and longer runs of wheat will also have limited reserves, so will get the same treatment regime of about a third of the total dose end Feb/early March.

First wheats on heavy land look very thick and clearly have access to plenty of N at the moment. These will need starving until April if we are to avoid excessive lodging risks.

Rape crops in general have quite large canopies and have already taken up quite a lot of Nitrogen. These will need adjustments to the total dose to achieve the correct GAI and later timing, with a higher proportion of the total dose held back. This does seem to improve yield significantly.

All the talk seems to be of the rust risk this year. We obviously have a large area of susceptible varieties in the ground and in the East, at least, crops are carrying high levels of rust. In my area, West Bucks and Oxfordshire, levels of rust seem relatively low and I don’t perceive that the risk is necessarily any higher than the last two seasons. I am not suggesting complacency, just that a conventional T0 of a Triazole/Chlorthalonil mix applied mid March will be all that is required.

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