Dont pull plug too quickly on second wheats
By Andrew Blake
EXTRA poor performance by second wheats this year could tempt cereal growers to drop them. But the consequences need careful consideration, particularly in the light of Agenda 2000 proposals. Husbandry tweaks may be more rewarding, say specialists.
Results suggest the yield difference between first and second wheats has doubled this season, mainly because of take-all.
"Many second crops have suffered very badly with take-all," says Morley Research Centres Doug Stevens. "The 10 to 12-year average yield difference between first and second wheats drilled at the same time is about 1t/ha. In some cases this season it has been 6t/ha."
However, reasonable second wheats exist. "I know of one farmer with 10.5t/ha of second wheat Charger," Mr Stevens notes.
In ARC trials in Lincs second wheats gave 2t/ha (0.8t/acre) less than first crops, reports David Robinson. "Normally we expect only 0.75-1t/ha difference."
Unusually low yields
Axients Bill Barr agrees second wheat output is unusually low. "We reckon on 0.25t/acre difference. This year it has been more like 1t/acre where take-all is worst." ADASs Chris Page brands some second wheat performances disastrous.
But with take-all so weather-dependent Mr Stevens advises against sweeping changes. "There is no guarantee that the next five years will be like 1998 or any worse than 97, 96 or 95. But it would be sensible to cut out early drilling of second wheats."
Mr Barr agrees. "I wouldnt alter rotations because of one bad year." Introducing more break crops, even where practical, could be misguided, he believes. "Under Agenda 2000 they are not that clever."
Shun fashionable early sowing, he adds. "Dont drill second and third wheats until October." Even in his heavy land area this does not normally jeopardise establishment. Separate rolling to counter take-all by improving soil/root contact could be used more widely. "The rolling action of one-pass drills is not so good."
Mr Robinson identifies two main approaches believing most growers will opt for the first. "They can maximise break crops now to get more first wheats in the first year of Agenda 2000." Beyond that new seed treatments offer a light on the horizon.
"The alternative is to stay with second wheats, grit your teeth to get through take-all decline to more third and fourth crops and so be less affected by Agenda 2000."
Mr Page advocates only minor changes. Avoid sowing second wheats on fields with a known history of take-all and concentrate on controlling couch, he advises.
• Thick poorly rooted crops have been more prone to take-all, notes Velcourts Keith Norman. But trimming seed rates to counter the disease could be risky under more normal conditions, he advises.
we cant compare gross margins." But even poor second wheats generally outyield winter barley, says Mr Robinson. "And with the price of feed barley where it is you really have to question changing."
SECOND WHEAT ADVICE
• Reduce with caution.
• Take-all highly seasonal.
• Improve husbandry.
• Consider Agenda 2000.
On paper winter barley should be a safer anti-take-all second cereal option than wheat, says Mr Stevens. "But we have had quite a lot of problems with take-all in the crop this year. Merchants are saying Halcyon screenings are terrible." Early sowing and take-all are partly to blame, he suspects. Spring barley, the traditional safer alternative, cost £50/ha (£20/acre) less to grow this season, he notes. "But its not all sold yet so we cant compare gross margins." But even poor second wheats generally outyield winter barley, says Mr Robinson. "And with the price of feed barley where it is you really have to question changing."