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Talking agronomy with Ken McTaggart: Going into new cropping year in a good place

A good inch of mid-August rain in most places – and quite a lot more in some – caused a hiccup as we neared the end of harvest. But it has been just what we needed for oilseed rape sowing and autumn stubble management, as well as cover crop establishment and potato desiccation.

With the last of the winter wheat and spring barley to finish off as we go into the final half of the month, we are quietly pleased with the way things have turned out. Apart from a few of what combine manufacturers insist on calling ‘thermal incidents’, our harvest has been remarkably smooth. Nor has it been nearly as disappointing as some had feared.


We did have some badly droughted-off crops on light land, with equally disappointing performances from heavy land with compaction challenges, and yields certainly have not been as good as last year. Even so, many of our wheats have come off above their five-year average, with good proteins and specific weights and very high Hagbergs. Our oilseed rapes have been mixed but generally okay. And, variable though they have also been, spring barleys have been particularly pleasing on better land.

 

Add in the sort of crop prices we could not have imagined not so long ago and enough rain for our ground to cultivate up well and, with considerable relief, we are going into the new cropping year in a good place.

 

Now we have sufficient soil moisture to support establishment as well as germination, we are starting on our oilseed rape sowing. We have yet to suffer the acute flea beetle challenges of those further north, so we continue to hold-off until the late August/early September window we have always found best.


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No rush

 

We see no rush to get crops in as the heat our soils have built up over summer should really help get them away rapidly and we are sticking with the vigorous establishing and fast developing varieties that have done us well for several years now. Consistent on-farm performance is what we want, so the right growth habit with strong phoma and light leaf spot resistance are more important to us than any possible output edge in small plot trials.

 

As with Clearfield crops, we are generally relying more on post-emergence weed control these days. This has as much to do with the extra flexibility we have with post-em options as it has with making sure we have a crop before spending too much on it.

 

Metazachlor and quinmerac chemistry remain the mainstays of our programmes, but we are tending to use them early post-emergence rather than pre-em as a holding action followed-up with propyzamide and aminopyralid once temperatures cool down enough. This fits nicely with an essential early post-emergence graminicide plus at least one pyrethroid to keep the flea beetles at bay.

 

Also going in now thanks to the early harvest and recent rain are rather more cover crops than we have had in the past. We continue to be very cautious about their value and role. But this season is giving us an excellent opportunity to ‘dabble’ with a range of mixtures in a number of situations – including ahead of maize.


The much-needed rain has really helped our potato desiccation dilemmas too. Mainly in reducing the extra stress on crops that can all too easily cause damaging vascular browning in the tubers.


At the same time, it should work wonders for grass-weed greening in our stubbles. So it looks like we will have some really good flushes to glyphosate-off in late September ahead of our winter barley and wheat drilling.

 

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