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Talking agronomy with Andrew Roy: Battling the beetle; at war with the wind

Despite unsettled weather towards the end of harvest, we have had an exceptionally early finish to combining here in the North East.

Followed by another dry period and strong winds, we are now looking for rain to help establish the new crop and aid cultivation, especially in the south of my region.

 

We are still in the heat of battle against flea beetle on the establishing OSR crop. Sadly, in some areas this battle has been lost, with several growers resorting to re-drilling. For us, the main period of migration seemed to happen around August 26, with crops that emerged around this time the worst-affected. Conversely, the ultra-early drilled crops got away well under adequate moisture and showed little of the tell tale ‘shot-holing’ associated with this pest.

 

Further north into Northumberland, flea beetle pressure has been lower and with more rainfall, crops there are getting away. Where damage is evident we have been spraying pyrethroids but, I must say, it is not a very satisfying job. Personally, I think a good measure of rain could offer more benefits at the moment. All of the cultural things we do seem to have greater effect on flea beetle control than insecticides (a parallel to black-grass control, perhaps?). With that in mind, I think it’s wise to focus on preserving soil moisture for rapid emergence, using seedbed N&P, picking the right variety and hoping for rain.

 

The dry summer did wonders for soil structure, making land work easy so far. With the ground deeply cracked by the heat, it’s been a good year for working off the top and with such ideal cultivation conditions, there was no holding back. Wheat drilling started early-September into fantastic, moist seedbeds and some of these crops are thriving without the need for a slug pellet.


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Rapid drying

 

However, the wind has frustrated our attempts to apply pre-em herbicides. Over the last ten days, land has dried rapidly and some growers are waiting for rain before progressing cultivation. I’m trying to hold people off the worst black-grass and ryegrass land, as drilling this into dry seedbeds is asking for trouble. The residual herbicide actives for these weeds need moisture to get going and achieve the necessary results. We must also consider that the half-life of both flufenacet and prosulfacarb is relatively short and drilling into warm soils shortens it further. In many cases, control of these two weeds is totally reliant on residual chemistry. While most growers I talk to agree with the above, holding them off is often another story. I have too many memories of autumn working windows cut short by heavy rain.

 

We are seeing a slight increase in the barley area following a good harvest, better crop values and strong demand for straw. High yielding feed types dominate in this area and I’d say Orwell is proving the most popular two-row alongside the hybrids; Bazooka, Belfry and Belmont. The majority of people still plough for barley, mainly for the control of volunteer wheat and brome. With an early harvest and good early moisture, effective stale seedbeds have allowed a significant area of barley to be established by non-inversion tillage. Time will tell whether we will get away with this but, certainly from a soil perspective, it looks right. As with wheat, the pre-em herbicide mix is a vital component of grass weed control, with triallate brought in to help on our worst fields.

 

Another crop showing steady growth is winter oats. It offers a fairly low-risk break crop and good output but it’s important to consider its placement as the lack of effective grass-weed control can be an issue.

 

We were also hoping to utilise winter beans as a break crop and as a tool to control resistant ryegrass and black-grass. However, it looks like seed is as plentiful as hens’ teeth following the summer heatwave.

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