Useful results if sun shines
Barn-busting yields of
combinable crops are
unlikely on our barometer
farms this harvest. But the
mood among growers is
Andrew Blake reports
SUNSHINE rather than more rain is the current requirement across the country.
Given enough sunlight between now and the time the combines move in, the outcome should not be as bad as expected a while back.
That is the barometer consensus after a frustrating spring and early summer which produced nitrogen application dilemmas and thwarted spray timings.
With most growers just embarking on ear washes it appears they have managed to keep most crops standing and reasonably disease-free, at least on the critical uppermost leaves.
No one wants to see a repeat of last years June washout.
WHEATS at Wephurst Park Farm, Billingshurst, West Sussex, look better than at the same stage last year, according to Patrick Godwin, who puts the improvement down to lower seed rates for his early drillings.
"We have benefited by getting some very big ears. I am also amazed at how clean the crops are. I am quite optimistic provided we get some sunshine between now and the end of July," he says.
Septoria has caused the most heart-searching. "Amounts in our Consort have been a worry. Reaper has been our cleanest variety."
The biggest change in plans, and one that clearly paid off, was the decision to spray early with a reduced rate mix of Pointer (flutriafol) and Bravo (chlorothalonil) fungicides in early March at stem extension (GS30) instead of GS31/32 as normal.
"I believe we would have found it difficult to control septoria if we hadnt gone through that early." The extra spend, £10-15/ha (£4-6/acre), should easily prove cost-effective, he says.
Nitrogen, 200-220kg/ha (160-176 units/acre) in three splits, the last going on at the end of April albeit with some tramline damage, might perhaps have been underdone given the robust regulator programme, he believes. "We could probably have done with putting a bit more on. It is just a feeling I have. Some crops look quite pale."
Although April was wet, with a total of 89mm (3.5in) of rain, follow up treatments of Mantra (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) or Amistar/Opus (azoxystrobin/epoxiconazole) depending on variety went on much as intended. "We decided we would have to go on even if it meant more ruts."
Ear washing with 0.25 litres/ha of Amistar began at the start of the week but was soon halted by rough weather. "We are on top of septoria, though we may have some mildew by the time we get round to the rest and might have to revise the programme by adding some Corbel."
FOR Stewart Hayllor, the extra £6/ha (£2.40/acre) he spent on wheat fungicides this season at Gullaford Farm, Landscove, south Devon, should be well rewarded. "The crops are a lot cleaner than normal," he says. "The thing that stands out this year is how well the early sprays did. They were a real struggle to get on, but they did an incredible job even where we had showers shortly afterwards." One field which did not get treated until a fortnight later was badly hit by septoria, he adds.
The main reason for the increased outlay was that under heavy disease pressure twin early flag leaf and ear emergence sprays replaced his normal single late flag treatment requiring an extra 0.3 litres/ha of Opus. "It means that with the ear wash, which is three-quarters done, we shall have been through four times."
Offsetting the generally good wheat news is a field of Muscat winter barley which is leaning quite badly after a thunderstorm three weeks ago despite two growth regulator treatments including late Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride), which failed to check the crops height. "The timing was about right, but in an unsprayed bit left as a trial there seems to be no difference."
Net blotch has also been troublesome. An unplanned third Opus spray on May 28, following Amistar/Opus in March and Opus again on May 10, was needed to keep on top of the disease in the early September-sown crop, he notes.
"I am more optimistic about harvest than last year because the wheats are so much cleaner, and if the Muscat had not gone over the barleys would have been okay. Maybe at 150 units/acre after two wheats it just had too much nitrogen."
First time Lizard oilseed rape, replacing Amber and unsprayed since last autumn, has lodged slightly but so far appears promising, he reports.
WITH soil moisture critical to yields on much of the sandland at Homme Farm, Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, Steven Mackintosh welcomes recent soakings.
"We had only 6.5mm in May, but already 44-45mm in the first week of June. It has helped no end across all our crops. I am a lot more optimistic than I was 10 days ago," he says.
Mr Mackintosh also notes that all crops are still upright, apart from some slight lodging in Reaper wheat headlands.
Septoria, with some mildew in the thicker stands, has been the main disease target. "Septoria has just kept going and going, but up to now it has not affected the flag leaves."
Despite a two-month stagger in drilling dates, flag leaf emergence was over within 10 days, putting pressure on fungicide timings. About 20% of the most promising wheats have had a full-blown Amistar programme with Opus added where needed and retain full potential. "They look a spectacular deep green," he comments. The rest received Mantra. The hope is to avoid an ear wash on all but the 14% of wheats grown for seed. Growth regulator timings, with up to three splits of chlormequat as well as Terpal, have been especially tricky to achieve. "But they have generally not been too far out. We have struggled on and have ruts to prove it."
With hindsight Mr Mackintosh believes his first of three nitrogen dressings should have been slightly higher.
"We used 40g/ha first off. The biggest problem was the second timing. Perhaps we should have used 50-60kg to give us a bigger second window."
That apart, overall rates seem to have been about right, he believes. "There is nothing down yet or looking stressed."
The main unexpected change of plan has resulted in an increased spend on cleavers and wild oat herbicides.
"We have used two or three times more Starane than previously," says Mr Mackintosh.
Patrick Godwin expects lower wheat seed rates should be rewarding.
Early spraying really paid off this season, says Stewart Hayllor.
June rain after a dry May sees Steven Mackintosh quietly optimistic.