West: Drier weather kick starts spring fieldwork

Drier weather in the last couple of weeks has allowed spring fieldwork to start in earnest and allowed us to catch-up with spraying priorities. It has also allowed spring crops to be drilled into pretty good seed-bed conditions and spring cereals are emerging well.

Potato planting has also picked up pace in the recent warmer conditions, evidenced by the increase in tractor and planters flying about the countryside. Maize crops will be the next focus of drilling, with maize gaining in importance for energy production in my area with the increase in on-farm anaerobic digestion (AD) plants.

The warm weather increased the pea and been weevil numbers just as most of my spring beans were emerging, causing some concern, but early growth seems to be outpacing the notching, so hopefully this will continue as I feel that insecticides have to be used judiciously and only where really needed. A similar scenario occurred with pollen beetle numbers in the oilseed rape crops with numbers building but crops romped into flowering and passed the risk of bud damage even more swiftly. I have not found seed weevil in significant numbers to warrant treatment.

The sclerotinia protection programme was started with a yellow-bud fungicide with plant growth regulator (PGR) activity where necessary, with the plan to come back at mid-flower to give around five weeks of protection, which I hope will be enough to cover the bulk of flowering. We can get some cost effective sclerotinia protection from fungicides with flat dose response curves, according to the HGCA work, so rates will be tailored accordingly. We need to keep tight control on costs due to present crop prices.

The windy conditions in the run-up to Easter meant that some T0s went on 7-10 days later than planned, although this should allow us to wait until final leaf 3 is fully emerged, with leaf 2 starting to emerge. However, just seeing the forecast for the week ahead  showing a break in the settled conditions by the time this article goes to press, I will now be avidly leaf rolling to target wheat crops that are ready for their T1. It will be a case of holding my nerve on those crops where leaf 3 is not fully out.

Although septoria levels have reduced with lower leaf senescence and less rain splash events recently, I am still finding significant levels on the tip of leaf 5 so unlike some of my fellow Crop Watchers, I will only reduce the spend at T1 on my most resistant varieties such as Revelation.

Winter barley T1s should have been completed and although they are pretty free of disease, I found some rhynchosporium and brown rust starting to develop prior to T1. As we know, early season fungicide inputs are the most important in barley, so the T1s have been based around an SDHI/azole co-formulation.

Winter oats have been fairly slow to take off, but they will also have had first fungicide and plant growth regulator (PGR) treatments. In my area I have been surprised at the lack of a spring flush of broad-leaved weeds, so in a lot of cases the final weed tidy-up decision has been delayed.

Hopefully we can get the majority of T1s completed in this spell of settled weather. Then dare I say, even in the west, a drop of rain wouldn’t go a miss to help the spring crops get away to a flying start, which is vital and where residual chemistry is deployed to help weed control. Bring on the April showers!

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