South: Totally normal abnormality

I had a young enthusiastic Harper student come out with me a couple of weeks back and I said “It’s not like this in a normal spring”. Then I thought – what is a “normal” spring? Every one I think of over the last ten years has been different and has brought with it its own challenges.

Lack of rainfall is an obvious fact of this spring. But my opinion is that moisture deficit alone is nowhere near as big a problem as it becomes when it is combined with either unseasonably searing temperatures or desiccating north-easterly winds.

This year we have had both and I don’t need to describe the problems as every communication in our industry has highlighted them at every opportunity.

So what do we do? Prices are high, there’s a lot of value to protect. But there is likely to be some yield penalty as a result of the weather and disease levels are generally low.

Wheat crops are all in ear anything up to two weeks earlier than expected. I bet (hope) we won’t be harvesting them much earlier than normal.

So my strategy is to keep some protection on the crop without spending too much money, based on epoxiconazole and chlorothalonil. (I don’t care if they aren’t considered “novel” chemistry, they’re still probably amongst the most important molecules that can be applied to a crop of winter wheat in this country).

This is done on the understanding (I hope) with growers that should there be a significant change in the weather we may radically change our approach.

There have been some positives too, though. Winter oilseed rape has continued to produce buds and flower and, as I expected, I now can’t tell the difference between those that did or didn’t get a pollen beetle spray.  

The only “normal” thing about this spring is that the characteristically “abnormal” weather has reminded us exactly who the boss is when it comes to the weather. I’m just glad it’s not my job to try to recoup the 250 million quid’s worth of investment in new chemistry in a year like this.

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