West: Normal weather service is resumed

Recent weather has returned to more normal autumn conditions, with just shy of 100mm in my rain gauge for October after the exceptionally dry and barmy September.

However, there have been just enough dry days for most of the autumn planting to be completed with reasonable seed-beds achieved – even after forage maize. Where seed-beds have been a bit forced, emergence has still been pretty good with the soils still warm and not chilled down yet. The rain has increased slug activity, but significant damage and the need for pelleting has been sporadic. Generally crop growth has been faster than the grazing damage in most cases.

Early September drilled crops are tillering out well and have grown strongly in the conditions, residual herbicides on these crops seem to have worked fairly well. Both mildew and septoria is starting to be found in these forward crops. Herbicide applications on later planted crops have been snatched where possible, but not everything has been covered.

I have prioritised covering barley and oats, as you have limited grassweed control options on these in the spring whereas on wheats where we are only chasing annual meadow grass and broad-leaved weeds, we have the Othello (diflufenican + iodosulfuron + mesosulfuron) option. Insecticide has been included for aphid control on all crop types where we have reached the 170 T-Sum values.

Frit fly “deadhearts” have been the most common reason for plant losses in wheat after oats and early-drilled oats. In my worst case on some September-drilled oats we have lost some areas on headlands where higher grassweed survival has been a host for the pest. We may have to patch these areas up in early spring.

I resisted the temptation to recommend a post-emergence ‘revenge’ chlorpyrifos application as in my opinion it is futile once damage is advanced, as larvae are deep in the main shoot. As yet I have not found many ‘gouted’ tillers from the eggs laid in the balmy conditions of September, but I expect these will start to develop over next few weeks. However, with the level of tillering in early drilled crops I am confident we will have enough to achieve our target spring shoot number.

Oilseed rape crops have enjoyed the open autumn conditions with a lot of crops at or above “welly height” with GAI’s of 2.5-3.5 with good root systems, unlike some localised reports I have heard of crops looking good above ground, but with roots decimated by cabbage root fly. Autumn GAI assessments are of limited value, as they will reduce considerably over winter as crops open up with lower leaf loss, frosts and pigeon grazing.

Since my last post where I reported phoma being found, development has been surprisingly slow despite the recent wet weather. The light leaf spot forecast is predicting much higher risk this season. However, leaf samples taken last week across a number of varieties are in incubation at present, but are not yet revealing significant levels. So a single spray fungicide strategy will be deployed, mainly focussed on plant growth regulation, with coverage for light leaf spot. My product choice will be based around a robust dose of tebuconazole. On large leaved crops, phoma poses a much lower risk of yield-robbing canker being formed.

Soil temperatures are starting to drop now so propyzamide will be included where required for grassweed control. Myzus persicae numbers have been sporadic, so only a few crops have been treated and it will be interesting to see if we get significant levels of virus in untreated crops

Hopefully we will get a few days of settled weather this month to be able to get the last spray jobs tidied up and we can shut the gate for the winter. Then I would be quite happy for us to have a decent winter, unlike last year, with a run of sub-zero temperatures. I think it does well established crops no harm, plus providing some natural control of pest and diseases. It might also kill some of the charlock in OSR crops!

After attending the Drones in Agriculture Conference this week, organised by precision agriculture company Ursula I look forward to the future when I can just launch my drone out of the window on a pre-programmed flight path from my tablet computer to scout weed patches and digitally assess crop growth in fields. Certainly seems more appealing than trudging through rain in mud-laden boots, but until that day it’s wellies and waterproofs that are the agronomists tools!

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