South: Persistence, progress and plan B

We’ve made some drilling progress over the past month. But it’s been painfully slow as we take advantage of every weather window and making the most of every plough and combination drill for ground that simply can’t take top-down working.

Further south on the chalk I reckon around 80% of our winter crops are in, while on the heavier ground to the north we’re barely half way in some cases.

It is too late for winter barley now, but we’re pressing on with the wheat. Forward prices are attractive and barley is already trading at a big discount. So we look like being markedly better off with December-drilled wheat than ever we will be with the later-drilled spring barley that seems inevitable with soils as waterlogged as most remain.??

While we’re still not panicking, we are beginning to make contingency plans in case the weather keeps up its assault on our drilling. And because we’re seriously concerned that ?10-20% of our oilseed rape may not make it.??
Peas look like being a useful fall-back. They do well on heavier ground. We can hold off on drilling until April if the soil needs it. And we can harvest an early maturing large blue like Daytona nicely ahead of winter wheat, giving us a good early first wheat entry. That way our present problems don’t spill over into rotational disruptions next season. What’s more, we’re seeing some very tempting contract offers. So it’s not all gloom.

Having said that, we’re keeping our fingers firmly crossed on the bulk of our winter oilseed rape and our pest defenses as high as we can. This is the first time I’ve ever had to apply slug pellets to rape in November. What’s more, our worst fears about pigeons are certainly being realised. If only we could persuade them to develop a taste for slugs!

??We’ve already sprayed about a third of our rape for phoma. Levels have really taken off on susceptible varieties in the past 10 days. Such small plants and so little active growth? with the water logging means we can’t afford any delay. Varietal resistance and the sort of vigour we’ve seen from hybrids like Excellium and ExPower and pure line Quartz are proving invaluable. Even so, we’ll be spraying every acre this autumn, adding Nutriphite PGA to do everything we can to promote root development.

We aren’t being tempted to go in with the propizamide yet, though. An early dose of tepraloxydim has kept bad blackgrass nicely in check. So we can afford to be patient and hold off until soil temperatures fall back, while giving our crops the best chance of deeper rooting for the greatest safety.??

Nutriphite PGA is also going on some of our wheats to encourage root development which has been particularly poor on water logged, slumped, anaerobic soils as we follow-up Deter (clothianidin) treatment with an insecticide to combat the barley yellow dwarf virus threat. And, with slugs continuing to be such a major threat, we’re taking special care to protect late wheats that haven’t had Deter from seed hollowing.

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