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Talking agronomy with Ben Boothman: Winter barleys are turning yellow and starting to shut down tillers

In the words of Murray Walker its go, go, go. Tractors, drills, fertiliser spreaders and, in some cases, sprayers have all refuelled and entered the spring campaign.

Ben Boothman.
Ben Boothman.

The welcomed recent settled weather has allowed fields to drain and, on lighter soils, present themselves favourable for spring drilling to commence.

Heavier soils are getting worked over with the key aim of getting some air through the saddened soil to aid the drying process.

Any land that was worked and left over winter is napping back nicely, and on kinder soils direct drilled crops are going in surprisingly well. Some of these pre-worked fields however can be deceiving. The surface looks nice and dry and one would assume would drill a treat, but what lies below is a cold, sticky mess and will require some patience before allowing the drill in.

I’m hoping that by the time this goes to press, all spring beans will have been sown and sprayed, otherwise we will be wishing them a merry Christmas.


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The first spring barleys are going in and, with the large acreage set to be planted, who knows where the price will be come September. Will the reduction in winter barley help steady the value?

 

Winter oilseed rape crops vary from one inch tall showing a reluctance to move, while others are three feet tall and refusing to slow down.

 

Those backward rape crops have either been bombarded by pigeons or contain a plethora of cabbage stem flea beetle larvae and decisions need to be made on the crop’s life expectancy.

Nutrition

 

In my previous article I touched on nitrogen applications. Getting this key nutrient into the plant in a form they can readily take up is vital. With the biblical volumes of rain experienced over the last six months, low soil N reserves and poor crop root systems guide us into making sure the nitrogen applied can be used as quickly as possible.

 

First applications should ideally be ammonium nitrate, purely because the N is in a form immediately available to the plant. Nitrogen availability is slower from urea as this must go through a chemical reaction before it can be utilised. In general, the first tickle has now been applied.

 

I say this with caution as there are still crops yet to receive that important early dose. In these cases, it is time to prioritise which crops need it most. Winter barleys that have yet to receive anything should be the main go-to.

 

These crops are now turning a Minion yellow and will be starting to shut down tillers. This early N is vital for tiller survival transpiring into yield.

OSR

 

My second priority would be oilseed rape. With the longer day length and rise in future temperatures, most of those OSR crops which survived the cut will soon be at a height that will hinder prill spread if left too late.

 

Finally, we can then move to the wheats. It’s more important to get N on those late sown backwards crops over those which are well-established. These need an early boost to help get them up and going and move them out of the danger zone of rook feeding.

 

With all the doom, gloom and worry surrounding our news lately, it’s refreshing to see farmers are following the Government’s guidelines and self-isolating themselves in their tractors while they do their best to keep the country supplied with top quality home grown produce.

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