West: Low soil nitrogen reserves starving crops

As I write this it is raining again after a couple of days of cold frosty weather, which puts ground conditions back to square one – that is, saturated and un-walkable.

Spring cereals are being delivered on to farm, but there is no hope of drilling anything yet and it’s going to be nearer the end of March before much happens on some of the heavier ground. Soil nitrogen reserves will be very low and crops are going to be running short. As long as the weather remains wet, the situation will only worsen.

The oilseed rape crops vary from really forward where sown in August, to very backward ones sown in mid to late September. Forward crops will not require any early nitrogen, but the backward crops are going to need some as soon as we can travel. The phoma levels are very high and will need to be addressed as soon as we can travel. Some crops have been written off, as water logging finished off the small plants struggling to establish due to last autumn’s late drilling.

The late-sown winter wheats after maize are OK as long as they had their pre-emergence herbicide, but where this was missed due to weather there is an abundance of grassweeds and broad-leaved weeds. On some farms I have wheat drilled a week apart in adjacent fields and you would think there was a month’s difference in drilling date. We soon forget how quick the weather and ground conditions changed last autumn.

There is much chemical left in stores that will no longer be applied and recommendations will have to be changed, but the insecticide will still have to be used to reduce risk of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV). With wheat still only just over £100/t at harvest, every penny has to be justified and it doesn’t help when some crops are coming through winter with well below average ground cover and full of disease.

The hybrid barleys have coped very well with the conditions and are looking good, with the hybrid vigour certainly showing on ground cover and root development. Hopefully we can travel to treat them soon and allow the crops to express their full potential.


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