West: New crop year, same old problems

Dare we hope that the fine and open early autumn of 2013 portends a better twelve months ahead for arable farmers? Cereal harvest is virtually complete; the few remaining acres of spring rape and linseed should be cleared by the time you read this.

So far great progress has been made with winter crop establishment. Oilseed rape looks exceptional save for a few ploughed seed-beds, which dried out in the late summer sun.  Unfortunately the blackgrass in winter rape has also got off to a good start (save for the aforementioned ploughed fields!) Contact graminicides have been applied for cereal volunteers and grassweeds.

In situations where we know the blackgrass is difficult, we have applied carbetamide and are keeping our fingers crossed that a programme with propyzamide will do the job. It is going to be a fascinating prospect watching to see which rape performs the best. Given a favourable autumn and winter I would not bet against the largely blackgrass free, but later establishing ploughed fields.

Save for a small amount of downy mildew disease is largely absent, but we are mindful of phoma once we have some rain splash.

Make the most of the pleasing sight of rape with no flea beetle damage this year. I fear we will have been out with the pyrethroids at least once by this time next year. It is a great shame that the suspension of neonicotinoids could lead to widespread spraying of insecticides, which inevitably affect more insects then the target pest.

Plan your buffer zones carefully for next season. The falling value of rape and the need to invest so much money early in the crops life means many farmers are more bearish about this crop and interest in winter beans is stirring again.

The flushes of blackgrass affecting the oilseed rape have been a bonus in the coming wheat, barley and oat crops with excellent control by glyphosate. Inevitably cereal drilling is underway with the first wheat and barley crops now emerging. High yielding two- and six-row hybrid feed varieties have largely ousted winter malting crops in my area. Thankfully we managed to source enough Deter dressed seed to protect all these early sowings.

We have managed to confine this earlier drilling to the least blackgrass infected ground.  A splash of rain would be welcome to soften heavier ground and help the activity of soil applied herbicides.  Year on year the number of active ingredients in the mix increases, work done by my colleagues in the AICC and other organisations show that this is an essential part of the overall blackgrass strategy.  In winter barley it is the only way forward, although crop safety concerns in barley means we focus largely on flufenacet/Avadex (tri-allate) sequences.

Forage maize harvest started over the weekend and we look forward to clearing fields in good conditions and establishing wheat at optimum timing behind it.

In many ways this autumn is a case of new crop year, same old problems, and no new solutions.  Tackling them with sun on your back and drilling, so far, proceeding smoothly does give renewed confidence to deal with the issues.

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