South East: Tending to later-drilled crops

The coldest December in more than 100 years gave us a good 24 days of air frost here in the South East. While our first wheats and earlier-established oilseed rapes have come through this trial by ice remarkably well, it hasn’t done any favours for later-drilled crops

The cold weather has really opened up more backward OSR crops, for instance, and many have been laid bare by the pigeons. Once again, I’ve no doubt the time and effort we put into selecting vigorous hybrids and encouraging early root development will pay dividends, ensuring they bounce back strongly as soon as growth recommences.

Even so, to compensate for the leaf loss we’ll be prioritising them for early spring nitrogen, carefully balanced with sulphur wherever required, as soon as we can get on the ground later this month.

And, given the huge nutrient demand when the crops first start growing and soil temperatures remain low, we’ll be keeping boron, molybdenum, magnesium and manganese levels up to scratch with an early foliar spray, accompanied by Nutriphite PGA to help encourage fresh rooting and to maximise nutrient efficiency.

We’ll have to give our later-drilled and second wheats particular early nutrient management care and attention too. As they’re noticeably thinner and less well-tillered than the earlier-drilled first wheats. An early March dose of specialist low temperature PGR, Adjust (chlormequat) or Meteor (chlormequat + imazaquin) will also be called for to reduce apical dominance and help the later tillers catch-up.

While the December cold snap held back both crops and weeds, it’s surprising how much disease is still about; in particular, Septoria tritici and mildew on the wheat and phoma on the oilseed rape. So leaf infections are going to have to be a key main watch out on better established, earlier crops which remain quite lush and leafy. And, of course, we’ll have to make sure they get just the right growth regulation to guard against lodging.

With crop values continuing to look healthy across the board, our emphasis this spring will be firmly on investing sufficiently to realise as much of every crop’s potential as we can.

However, our spring fertiliser applications will be based firmly on assessments of both the nitrogen we already have in the crop (through tiller density and Green Area Index) and what’s available in the soil (measured by N-Mins). After all, at current nitrogen prices – and with more than half an eye to the environment – we simply must maintain as much precision as possible with our inputs despite the relatively rosy crop marketing position.

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