West: Crops have foundations for good yields

In general, winter crops in my region have the foundations for good yield potential, but there is a long way to go for this to be realised. If only we knew what Mother Nature is going to challenge us with over the coming months, we could be more confident in fulfilling this potential.

Most oilseed rape crops are well rooted and as a result have very good levels of above ground biomass. We have had at least had some cold weather this winter – although we have avoided any days of snow cover – to check this growth. There are a few fields or areas in fields that have suffered in wet and cold soils, so have taken on a blue tarnish. These will be targeted for an early nutrient boost.

Otherwise, due to green area indices (GAIs) currently being around 1.5 -2.0, we will not be rushing in with straight nitrogen/sulphur containing fertilisers going on at first split. Reducing the total amount of nitrogen applied by careful monitoring of GAI with app technology will be one way I will try to reduce input costs. It is difficult to see where other input costs can be saved with the potential impact of the predicted levels of light leaf spot and the yield benefits of growth regulation. But at current and forecast crop values, OSR growing is under considerable economic pressure.

Early drilled wheat has exceptional levels of tillering. I have some with 10+ tillers per plant resulting in 1500-2000 tillers/sq maccording to the app, so again on these we will be holding back on nitrogen. Some of these have 1-2 tillers/plant with gout fly infestation, but with this number of excess tillers I have no worries that we have more than enough, as we weed to lose more than half of these to get the optimum number. So any early nitrogen applications will be reserved for the later drilled and second wheat.

Hopefully the frosts will slow down any early rust development and thankfully all of my growers have ‘seen the light’ and dropped Oakley, but Santiago and Kielder will have to be monitored closely. For us in the West though, Septoria is always our main focus and the levels I am seeing on the lower leaves at present are similar to what we were seeing this time last year.

Data from trials last year showed responses to robust four spray fungicide programmes ranging from 4–7t/ha. So even at lower grain prices the return on investment from a fungicide programme is still greater than 4:1. We have invested in establishing the crop, so we have to protect that investment. For me this will start with chlorothalonil at T0 towards end of March, which should be 3 weeks before T1. There has been a lot of discussion on where to target multi sites. I will plan to use them at T0 and T1 where I feel we are in more protectant septoria situations.

Winter barley is taking on its usual yellow hue for this time of year. Looking at these crops more closely, it is mainly due to lower leaf senescence in some fairly large canopies. Mildew was fairly active at the end of last year and the frosts have browned it off quite a bit, but along with the rhynchosporium it will benefit from an early start to the fungicide programme. I will plan for a cheap start to the fungicide programme, mixing it in with the first split of plant growth regulator (PGR). We are now learning that to push barley yields we have to get nitrogen on early to keep tiller and head numbers up, but this does increase the requirement for a robust PGR programme.

All thoughts have turned to the start of spring applications and spring drilling, fuelled by a run of dry weather with soils starting to dry steadily, but with a recent couple of days of wet weather, plus the rain and wind pounding on the window as I write, this I think these thoughts will have to be put on hold until March now. But then it is rare that any significant field work is done before Cheltenham festival week.

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