September was always known as the month for harvest festivals, symbolising the end of 12 months hard work with all the produce safely gathered in store.
For many this is now the case, however driving around the odd darkened field of wheat is still holding on, awaiting its birthday.
We all know that I don’t need to go into detail on this year’s weather during harvest so here is a quick recap. In Yorkshire we started off with summer in late June, closely followed by autumn in July, winter in August and a quite usual wet, dry, wet, dry September.
I write this half way through the month so things could yet change again with 22degC predicted at the weekend.
The main topic on farm now is of course oilseed rape.
All discussions start with ‘shall we grow the crop?’; closely followed by ‘when should we sow the crop?’; then finally ‘how shall we establish the crop?’.
Several of my clients this year have had enough of the frustrations in growing the crop.
They were battle hardened to pigeons and slugs, but the headaches experienced from flea beetle and pollen beetle onslaughts were the deciding factor. However, the high prices and better than expected yields this year have lured many back.
Establishment methods are tailored to reflect the common opinion of ‘what’s the cheapest and quickest way of establishing my crop?’ and ‘how high a seed rate can I go ensuring I have enough plants to feed the flea beetle yet still leaving me enough for a crop?’.
Many have opted to go down the conventional variety route and increase seed rates by up to 50% while others have stuck to hybrid varieties hoping that their trademark vigour will help them get away early.
Due to the late/wet harvest drilling dates have been varied.
There was a familiar pattern that if it’s not a combining day we will sow some rape.
Crops sown after winter barley in early August are now approaching the 4-5 true leaf stage and are safely past the flea beetle grazing risk.
Unfortunately, larvae feeding damage is another hurdle to overcome but with the much heralded ‘worst winter for 30 years’ looming lets hope that larvae will not be an issue.
Crops drilled in mid-August appear to be the most vulnerable to adult flea beetle grazing and there has been many acres of print on flea beetle resistance to pyrethroids.
So, what do you advice your clients? An early dose of nitrogen and phosphate (if placement fertiliser not used) is key to help try and get these crops up and away from the pesky flea beetle.
It’s a brave agronomist and farmer to do nothing from an insecticide application but in many cases, this is probably the correct course of action. Early established rape crops bring their own however those early-emerging crops are likely to attract summer populations of aphids, and early infections of turnip yellows virus can have significant yield effects so early aphid monitoring is key.
Pest threats are also having a knock-on effect in the choice of herbicide selection. Pre-emergence programmes are less commonly used mainly due to the fact we want to see a crop before we invest further.
An early post emergence herbicide mix is now the favoured approach using metazachlor, dimethenamid and quinmerac combinations.
Volunteer cereals and early black-grass control also loom large and choosing when to time the Centurion Max (clethodim) for optimum effect is always a challenge.
I have listened to many of the sage-like gurus of the agricultural industry advising us all to delay drilling the longer the better.
This will reduce black-grass population, lessen the risk of BYDV and reduce early disease pressure next spring.
Unfortunately, this is not an option for many in the north and delaying means not drilling before mid-September.
The answer to the issue of black-grass for us must be spring cropping and rotational change. Many have now started to work fields in preparation for the coming cereal sowing campaign.
Soil conditions at present are extremely good, there is plenty of moisture there for seeds to strike yet not too much to cause a mess.
I have my own test on determining soil conditions - if I can play rugby with 21mm studs in without getting a blister or having to wash my boots at the end of the game then conditions are perfect!
Ben Boothman is an independent agronomist as part of the Arable Advisor Group covering Yorkshire and the North East. After doing a spell of agronomy in Northumberland he came home to North Yorkshire to be more actively involved in the family farm. He also carries out a variety of other consultancy work, runs his own straw merchant business and plays semi-professional rugby. He is BASIS, FACTS, BETA and soil and water qualified and studied a degree in agriculture and crop management at Harper Adams University.