West: Reasons to be optimistic!

Here in the west we have seen the rivers running at high levels and regularly inundating riparian areas with some patches having been under water for weeks following the wettest winter on record. Nothing like the level of flooding suffered further south as we have all seen in the media and our sympathies go out to those communities.

A positive response from these extreme weather challenges we seem to encounter more regularly now has been the initiatives such as Forage Aid demonstrating a fantastic spirit of collaboration and generosity amongst the UK farming community. Also demonstrating a worthwhile and powerful use of social media to mobilise support, well done to those involved.

I was hoping for a good spell of cold weather back in November, but here we are towards the end of February and still no significant run of frosts, it may still happen but the chance is diminishing. As a result the crops which were drilled in a timely fashion are looking fantastic! But they are going to take some careful early season management to achieve their full potential as in my opinion it is often harder to hold on to high potential than pull a poor crop up to reasonable yield.

Pictures taken for GAI assessment recently has shown the larger OSR canopies to have indices 2-2.5 as they have not been thinned much by frosts nor pigeons. The continued mild conditions and the increased day length are causing some of the forward crops to start to move into stem extension with some buds visible on varieties such as DK Extrovert.

This is going to make it a tense few weeks in crops where we have charlock, hedge mustard, cranesbill and cleavers still to be controlled with bifenox (+ or – clopyralid/picloram) which have a buds visible cut-off in fields that still need to dry out before we can travel. The larger crops will get a second fungicide with PGR activity as incubated leaves are showing occasional light leaf spot lesions developing.

Many winter wheat crops are similarly well tillered with some crops already having 5-7 tillers with good leaf area.

Although soil N reserves are lower than normal these crops like many OSR crops will not need early nitrogen as they have captured sufficient autumn growth from good root systems. This is a blessing, as the longer we can leave fields to dry out before having to travel, the lower the risk of ruts caused in the tramlines.

Winter barleys both conventional and hybrid are well tillered, but will benefit from nitrogen as soon as we can travel to keep tiller numbers up and feed those crops that have started to turn yellow.

Septoria is always the key wheat disease for us in the west and levels are building on lower leaves so let’s hope weather conditions allow timely application to key leaf layers as that is going to be critical for disease management this season and also reduces resistance selection pressure.

Unlike last year, T0is going to be a key start to the programme and will include an azole for rust management. Although the yellow rust that was rampant in mainly Oakley three weeks ago is less active recently, is this the warrior race running out of steam? Fungicide programmes are currently being costed and the debate with fellow AICC agronomists is whether with increases in fungicide costs an SDHI at T1 is going to be justified with predicted new crop wheat prices.

So crop potential, for those not suffered from flooding, are good, but we need a sustained period of dry weather to allow us get on with field work. The last week was the first this year when we had less than an inch of rain and I hear the weather men suggesting weather is due to settle down – so reasons to be optimistic!

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