West: First hint of spring arrives

Despite continuing overnight ground frosts, Grand National day gave the first hint of spring.

Good news – a large area of spring beans, wheat and barley has now been drilled at generous seed rates.  Seedbeds have varied from surprisingly good on the lighter soils to mediocre on the clays. Soil temperature has been slow to rise. Patience in planting spring rape and linseed may pay off – but those who have large acreages to drill need to start earlier.

Most winter rape crops have little growth above ground, despite applications of fertilizer. Bitterly cold winds and pigeon grazing mean that even more crops than were first planned have now been written off. Some of these crops looked better in January and received propyzamide herbicide treatments, which has reduced options for replanting.

Very late drilled wheats are chitting, but seem reluctant to emerge from the soil. They will need careful management, but nitrogen requirements will be reduced.

Autumn drilled winter wheat crops – and there are not many of them – are looking reasonable. Hopefully we will soon enjoy warmer conditions to allow grass weed control. Autumn residuals have worked well on the few crops treated. Blackgrass in the untreated crops will be a challenge for the spring herbicides we have available.

Disease control in these forward wheats has not been a priority yet, but this can soon change.  The message from the independent 2012 trials is that good septoria eradicant activity can no longer be expected from triazole chemistry, so a preventative approach will be vital.

Professor John Beddington, outgoing government Chief Scientist, says that extremes in weather conditions will become more pronounced in the future. So this season may not be exceptional, and we will just need to get used to managing these extra risks.

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