South: Steady as she goes

Two weeks without rain, some decent sunshine, good drying winds and longer days have made a huge difference to our ground and workloads. All our oilseed rapes, winter barleys and later-drilled wheats have had their initial fertiliser dressing and the first wheats are just getting theirs. So they should be well-insured against all but the worst of spring droughts.

With the exception of one Sunday where the temperature hit 17C, none-too-warm days out of the sunshine and decidedly chilly nights have steadied things nicely. Coupled with limited early N uptake in the dry weather, this means the crops haven’t surged ahead as rapidly as they might. While the odd wheat stem is not far from GS30, most of our earlier-sown crops are still only around GS26.

Despite the lack of frost, some of our more forward wheats have actually shed noticeable amounts of lower leaf too, helping to correct what were shaping-up to be worryingly large canopies and reduce earlier Septoria concerns. No early rain splashing to spread infections onto new growth is also a real blessing here; as is the fact that we’ve yet to find significant signs of yellow or brown rust.

This means we’ll be able to hold our T0s until the end of the month in most cases, so we don’t push the gap to T1 at Leaf 3 emergence beyond that critical four weeks. It also gives us time to deal with a significant carry-over of grass weeds. Which, in turn, means we won’t have to compromise on our T0 fungicides or plant growth regulators (PGRs) to ensure compatibility, or run the risk of mixes that are on the hot side.

An immediate challenge is to tackle more brome than I’ve seen for a good while, together with blackgrass continuing to germinate through the winter. Much of this is a legacy of seed return from thin, patchy oilseed rape crops with no significant canopy until the end of April; not to mention late harvesting with little time for stale seed-beds ahead of early wheat drilling.

Grass weed control has been far better in this year’s well-established rape, although the lack of frosts hasn’t helped charlock management. With our faster maturing hybrids 18in tall and already at green bud, though, all we can do is hope the earlier bifenox application does a decent job.

In the coming week our OSR will be getting its spring fungicide along with trace elements based on tissue tests. We’ve held off in case light leaf spot appears, but I’m staggered how clean our crops are after such a mild winter. It just goes to show the value of good-establishment, varieties with first class disease resistance, and timely autumn spraying. The lack of disease threat means we’ll be able to concentrate on metconazole for the canopy management most crops really need, using prothioconazole with tebuconazole if light leaf spot rears its ugly head.

The first pollen beetles have made their appearance but they’re nowhere near threshold levels yet. It’s amazing how rapidly populations can build, though. So we’re gearing-up to include a robust insecticide along with the fungicide wherever needed to protect the excellent potential in our crops.

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