West: Drills stand idle with seed still in the shed

After the wash out of a summer we all hoped for a fineautumn and a chance to establish some decent crops to take us into the new cropyear full of optimism.Sadly this hasnot been the case so far with machines standing idle and bags of seed sat inthe shed.  

A few cereal fields weredrilled in the slightly better weather of late September and tramlines are nowshowing, but these are the exception. Much discussion has taken place regardinghow bad this drilling season is, my onlyoctogenarian client tells me that 1963 was nearly as bad.

Those crops whichhave been forced in during the wet spells have seed-beds resembling the groundaround a cattle ring feeder in January. To make matters worse slugs have enjoyed ideal conditions (for them!)voraciously devouring pellets to the point where nothing is left for the nextwave of hatchlings and we are fast running out of legal doses of metaldehydepellets to stop them.  

To make mattersworse methiocarb based pellets seem as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.  I fear for the future of metaldehyde, eventhough people have abided by the limits we have had some exceptionally heavyrain storms. It is a vicious paradoxthat ideal conditions for slugs are are also ideal to move metaldehyde intowater. Fortunately a high proportion ofthis year’s wheat had Deter seed dressing which has given some below groundprotection.

Plans for pre-emergence herbicides have been sent into disarray as many seed-beds were not rolled and are very open, situations where efficacy is compromised and crop damage may occur. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise that so few crops are drilled as later sowings do take the pressure off in blackgrass control.

The best seed-beds are where fields were ploughed and then drilled immediately afterwards.  Smaller farms where cultivation systems are largely based on plough followed by power harrow drill combinations seem to have made the most progress this year, however, the majority of these growers only have a few hundred acres to get in.

Oilseed rape is all over the place.  There are a few very forward crops with six or seven leaves, backward crops at cotyledon to first leaf and every point between. aterlogging is wreaking havoc with smaller plants and I fear for those which have been standing in water for several days. To compound problems, downy mildew is affecting stressed small plants.

First phoma lesions have been spotted at around 1% infection. hese will quickly rise to threshold in the current conditions. As with cereals slugs require constant vigilance. So far I have had no rape crops to re-drill although this may change by the spring if sustained cold weather and pigeon attack sets in – many of the smaller plants will have little chance.

I sincerely hope we have had a dry spell by the next time I write otherwise the next article will be more of the same!

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