West: Good drilling conditions despite late maize harvest

Well, what an exceptional autumn it has been. We have had mild and dry conditions and I recorded a below average 39mm in both September and October. There have been drier Septembers recently, but that usually has been followed by a wetter than average October.

These drier conditions has allowed field work to progress really well, with even second and continuous wheats going into good seed-beds. The delay in maturity of the forage maize crops, resulting in harvest being about a fortnight behind normal seasons, looks like not having the feared impact on establishment of following wheat crops.

Maize harvest will be mostly finished in next few days in relatively dry conditions without too much trafficking damage, therefore allowing wheat to be planted in reasonable conditions. Let’s hope that the rains stay away just a bit longer to allow crops after maize and potatoes to establish, as this is important to stabilise the soil and avoid over-winter sediment loss, which is a major issue in the undulating river valleys in the west.

Where maize fields are not being autumn planted, I would urge growers to at least roughen the surface to reduce soil run-off and avoid potential Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) penalties as we are required to minimise soil erosion under Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) 5. To this end, on a number of my clients farms, fields destined for spring cropping we have established cover crops to improve soil structure capture nutrients and stabilise soil. Despite the late harvest delaying drilling, the open autumn has allowed them to grow away well (see pictures). We have used a black oat and berseem clover mix, as I am not convinced of the claims that the multi-species mixes including radish are not a host for clubroot. We have seen the disease cause significant problems in oilseed rape with only an occasional brassica in the rotation.

Wade 1 Wade 2

Oilseed rape crops that were drilled in the first week of September and took a while to get going have really picked up in the last fortnight. They are now at the five to seven-leaf stage and moving away from the threat of slug damage. Phoma lesions are becoming easier to find after recent rainfall and getting close to threshold, so fungicide plans will be deployed in the couple of weeks of November.

The delay in phoma epidemic will allow this to be a single autumn fungicide programme, with product choice depending on varietal light leaf spot score. Very few crops will warrant an autumn plant growth regulator (PGR) despite the good recent growth. Soil temperatures are still a little high for propyzamide applications, so at present these will be held back until cooler conditions prevail. Aphids have been a rarity, so as yet I have not felt the need to treat.

Cereals have generally established well, with good recent growth they have grown faster than any early slug damage. Most herbicides have been applied and recent rainfall has started to help efficacy with emerged weeds starting to show herbicide uptake. The importance of residual herbicide efficacy is as important in barley and oats as we have more limited contact grassweed chemistry in these crops. Monitoring for aphids will continue as many crops treated with Deter (clothianidin) will be coming to the end of their protection in mid-November.

Hopefully the weather gods allow a couple more weeks so we can get last of the spraying completed. Then, with crops fairly well set I would not be disappointed with a good spell of winter for a few weeks, as I always think it does no harm in reducing pest and disease levels. If the headlines are to be believed then we are due the worst winter for 50 years, but pretty sure they said that last year!

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