South: Forward oilseed rape needs a specific PGR

My oilseed rape is still very forward, so the first priority will be to apply a growth regulatory fungicide, or a more specific plant growth regulator (PGR) plus a fungicide, as phoma and some leaf spot is visible on new growth. No further herbicides will be applied as flower buds are visible and stems are extending – fortunately autumn treatments have worked well.

Most cereals are well established, though root bulk is lacking probably due to wet soils and the crop concentrating on producing stem and leaf. Combined with wet ground and lots of tillers potential for root lodging must be addressed with an early PGR.

Wet weather prevented some autumn post-emergence herbicides going on, so weed control is now a priority in cereals, though the weather seems against us once more.

Early N-min test results show surprisingly high in-crop and residual nitrogen levels, with some crops needing less fertiliser than planned, allowing potential savings. Be careful if considering cutting back with the newer milling varieties, as protein levels will dip.

Disease levels are alarming with septoria, yellow and brown rust all highly active in wheat. Recent frosts have burned off most of the mildew in my wheat, winter barley and oats. If mildew makes a comeback I will add a mildewicide at T0 – experience and trials show this also improves septoria control.

With crop prices so low, all inputs must be scrutinised and savings made where realistic to do so. Even with last year’s low disease pressure, milling wheats showed a yield improvement of around 2.5t/ha from a full four spray fungicide programme. At current prices this equates to around 1t of yield – a great rate of return in comparison to my pension (or any other investment I can find).

Some varieties (for example, Skyfall) have potential for reduced fungicide programmes, but at low commodity prices yield is king – see where else inputs can be reduced before cutting back and possibly reducing yield. With little in the way of curative activity available in our armoury, we must focus on keeping crops clean and preventing the spread of disease up the leaves as they emerge.

Although we’re all keen to get going – be patient. Conditions need to improve for most of the spray and cultivation jobs to start and although many cereal crops look forward, it’ll be a fair while before they reach the optimal growth stage for a T0.

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