West: Don’t abandon hope!

Slightly drier weather over the past week has allowed some drilling to take place on lighter soils, but a day of rain midweek ensured that the heavier ground stayed saturated and impossible to drill.

Slugs continue to be a problem where there are crops in the ground. Soil conditions couldn’t be better as far as the slug is concerned, with open seed-beds that were far too wet to roll. Many oilseed rape crops have been treated three or more times with pellets. Once the limit for metaldehyde has been reached, the only alternative now is ferric phosphate because methiocarb-based products have sold out.

Some growers have given up on autumn drilling, perhaps prematurely. Given a dry November there is still time for reasonable drilling conditions and it is better to wait for that than to smear crops into mud. Seed rates will need to be increased as we go later.

As a last resort, broadcasting seed could be considered. Trials in the past have shown good results from broadcast crops, provided that the seed can be covered, usually with harrows. Broadcasting will leave seed very shallow, so no pre-emergence herbicides can be used and of course the seed will be much more vulnerable to slugs. It is far from ideal but it is an option.

Where cereals have been drilled, growth is slow. Care needs to be taken with pre- and peri-emergence herbicides, as a struggling crop will not be helped by being whacked with a complex mix of chemicals. As it happens most soils are too wet to take a sprayer anyway.

Oilseed rape crops are very variable. Some are at the 5-6 leaf stage and strong enough to survive the winter whilst others are barely beyond cotyledon. Crop growth is slow and there are reports of phoma on some. The more backward crops are at highest risk from this and it is likely that all crops will eventually need spraying if it is possible. Avoid using growth regulating fungicides on poorly developed crops; flusilazole is probably the best choice at this stage.

Blackgrass is emerging strongly in rape and is to be treated with graminicides. It is still too early to use propyzamide as the soil is too warm. That may change rapidly if today’s weather forecast is accurate!

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