Nearing the end of an extraordinary season, we can count ourselves lucky Covid-19 has affected our working lives much less than many. But then again, we have the weather to contend with.
Speaking of which, potato emergence has been very uneven despite pre-emergence irrigation in places.
Even so, our crops have all had their aphicides, along with targeted nutrition. Tight blight schedules are very much the order of the day now. In some cases, the weather has meant altering treatments at the last minute as timings have been stretched beyond our comfort zone.
Sugar beet has felt the neonicotinoid seed treatment ban, with viral infections showing despite two or three insecticide sprays. Since finishing our weed control programme, we have continued to build the best possible nutrition to help the crops grow away strongly ahead of our main disease control programme.
Many crops have shown unusual stress symptoms which have taken some analysing – phosphate on the flag leaf of oats, for example.
Our desiccation dilemmas with uneven barley, peas and OSR crops have not been helped by the emergency approval for carfentrazone in seed crops failing to come through in time.
In moving on from a season we would like to forget, we have really missed the opportunity of active discussions around our iFarm and Technology Centre trials. However, regular AgriScope site reports and the virtual summer events hub put together by my research and development colleagues have been much appreciated.
Through them everyone has been able to access the most up-to-date thinking on varieties, grass-weed management, soil recovery and a host of other valuable current and future cropping intelligence without leaving the office.
Many have found it very convenient to ‘visit’ trials further afield at their leisure, and go back to video tours and presentations to check on specifics whenever they like.
We have managed to get some corrective metal into uncropped ground to deal with last winter’s waterlogging damage. In some cases, this has meant considerable patience waiting for the soil to be in the right condition.
We have also been able to get summer covers into some fields to help set them up. But there is much more to do here with land coming out of crops – all, of course, following careful investigative ‘spade work’.
Much of our immediate cropping decisions revolve around seed held over from last autumn, with the latest Agrii Advisory List disease and sustainability ratings helping us plan the optimum gross margin variety-specific agronomy.
We are also making greater use of crops like hybrid barley and rye better able to cope with challenging soil conditions, and looking to spring cropping where necessary to help ground recover from last winter. This could well be a three-year programme in some cases.
Armed with the latest research and development, we will be following a clear eight-point plan for confident OSR establishment.
Key here will be a strong buckwheat companion crop where we can’t leave long enough cereal stubbles to deter CSFB, along with a well-proven starter fertiliser.
Tailored nutrition will be more important than ever for our 2021 cereals as well as OSR.
Our starting point will be broad spectrum soil analysis to identify limiting factors, supported by grain analyses from the 2020 harvest.
Then we will be focusing on making the nutrients each crop needs available when it needs them through seedbed fertilisers, technical seed dressings and foliar feeding based firmly on tissue analyses to the latest growth stage and yield-based curves.
Alongside this we will be protecting phosphate with P-Reserve and improving liquid nitrogen utilisation with Liqui-Safe wherever possible to optimise our fertiliser value and spend.
Finally, I suppose it is too much to hope that our industry will get some recognition for its role in feeding the nation through Covid-19. I can safely say, though, my teenage sons won’t forget their summer work on the blueberry harvest in a hurry.