South: A watery wait

After a run of cold days and nights when I last wrote back in November, we were hoping for a decent spell of winter to help our agronomy. Since then we’ve hardly had a worthwhile frost and more rain than any January in the past 100 years – a good 12in in some cases. And so far in February another 6in already. It just goes to show that the one thing we can rely on these days is unreliable weather.

While our downland crops have been able to take this reasonably well, those in the Thames Valley have really suffered. Some have been underwater for seven weeks now and are unlikely to survive. Coming on top of the disastrous harvest the same farms suffered last year, this is a real body blow. All we can do is wait and see what can be salvaged from a season that held so much early promise.

Up on the chalk, the prolonged and heavy rain certainly hasn’t done any favours to our spring cropping ground. Yes, it’s well-drained. But land that came up nicely in its primary cultivation in November has since taken a real battering. I really can’t see much of our spring barley going in before the middle of March. With the state the soils are in, patience is very much a virtue here; especially as last year really underlined the importance of seed-bed condition over sowing date in crop performance.

Septoria is, without doubt, our number one winter wheat concern. Agrii’s iFarm monitoring plots across the country are showing plenty of rust – both yellow and brown – in varieties this season. But we’ve yet to see much here. The lower leaves are full of Septoria, though, and it really doesn’t look like we’ll be losing much of this huge reservoir of infection to the winter.

Even so, we won’t be rushing in with the sprayer. There’s still time enough for a cold snap to help us out. Equally, the last thing we want to do is stretch our T0-T1 fungicide interval beyond four weeks.

We’ll definitely be using triazoles with good curative action at T0, rather than just relying on protectants and, in many cases, going for broad spectrum activity to counter any rust threat. And if rust becomes evident early we won’t hesitate to treat it ahead of T0 so we don’t compromise our Septoria treatment timings.

Thick and well-grown as they are, many of our wheats are also going to need good growth regulation. But we won’t be rushing in with this either – nor with our spring N, for that matter – because the last thing we want is encourage extra tillering. This would just hinder rather than help both canopy efficiency and standing power.

We’ll be holding off on early N and looking to effective growth regulation on much of our winter rape too. In contrast, sufficient nitrogen will be going onto our winter barleys as soon as we can travel. Unlike the wheats, they’ve suffered from the wetness, and we need to do everything to boost tillers here.

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