West: Science must be at heart of arable farming

The last week has been a strange one. My crop walking companion of the last nine years, a Hungarian Vizsla bitch, has been in the small animal hospital at Bristol University veterinary school. My clients with livestock have often enthused over the skill and professionalism of the vets there.  What has this to do with my monthly crop report?  The answer is simple, science.

It looks like science is going to save my dog and science is at the heart of a sustainable future for arable farming. My plea to all politicians, be they Brexiters or Bremainers, is that as the European debate heightens, please do not ignore science for the sake of ill-informed opinion.

Crop developments has been slow. Oilseed rape has been very steady to come into flower. Despite the conditions, sclerotinia spores have been detected on petals and apothecia (toadstool stage of the fungus) are emerging. Flowering sprays based on prothioconazole are ready to go and a small number of the earliest crops have been treated. Flowering sprays have been selected that will also control light leaf Spot. Selection of next year’s winter rape varieties will include full reference to northern varieties where light leaf spot resistance is so valuable.

Bear in mind that if the crop is still flowering three weeks after the first treatment, a follow up sclerotinia treatment will be required. Pollen beetles are now moving onto the flowers and have effectively changed sides and gone into alliance with us. Seed weevil has not yet been detected, it is a little cool for their flight.

The chief concern in winter wheat over the past week has been yellow rust. Inevitably, Santiago had early infection. Reflection is carrying far more than its Recommended List rating of 6 warrants. Fortunately, T0 sprays including a 50% dose of tebuconazole have held it. Pyraclostrobin will be included with imminent T1 treatments.

Septoria remains the key threat and with the strong likelihood that emerging leaf 3 will be infected, eradicant SDHIs will feature in the mix. All these extra costs mean that a high yield is essential to make crops pay.

On heavy land some spring barley remains to be drilled. These crops only have a chance of performing well if the seed-bed is ideal and emergence is rapid. On the worst patches of difficult land, spring oats have been destroyed by waterlogging. Spring beans are emerging strongly and in common with their winter cousins, look full of rude good health. Sitona weevil damage on winter and spring beans is still at very low levels.

This is the time of year when many clients have cleared their grain stores and we finally have fully verifiable yield statistics. Harvest 2015 was probably even better than we first thought.

The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) is currently generating a lot of excitement in our industry.

“If continued progress is to be made, it is necessary to identify what are the rate-limiting processes at various stages in the development of the crop.” P F Wareing, Potential Crop Production, 1971.

Note the date, 1971! There is nothing new under the sun, just a whole host of discoveries waiting to be made. I return to my opening remarks, science must be the driver.

Need a contractor?

Find one now
See more