Talk Agronomy with Vicki Brooks: Crops in good shape despite autumn drought

Arable FarmingAgronomycropprotection

Good, steady rainfall from the end of October has made all the difference to our later-sown oilseed rape and rewarded our patience in holding off on so much of our wheat drilling. And even up to 50mm of rain in 48 hours from the first named storm of the season last week did not dampen our spirits.


A day after the deluge of Storm Angus, I was amazed to find one of my by no means light farms with wheat tramlines still firm and fit to travel. This really underlines the value and importance of good soil structure and decent drainage.

Going into December, most of our wheat is well-established with 3-4 true leaves from sowing into decent seedbeds in late October and early November. The seed is only just chitting in the few cloddy patches we had, but the rain has really helped break them down. These should fill in over the next few weeks – providing we can keep the slugs at bay.

Also profiting from the welcome change in conditions have been our earlier wheat drillings which had struggled in cloddy and dry seedbeds. The best established of these have definitely been after catch crops, profiting from a microclimate which protected the ground from the worst effects of the warm, dry and windy autumn.

The prolonged dryness gave us little real opportunity to glyphosate-off black-grass ahead of any wheat drilling. Surprisingly though, we have not seen nearly as much weed growth in our crops as expected, even where conditions got in the way of pre-em activity. And the black-grass coming through is growing noticeably more slowly than the wheat.

Choosing wheat varieties which have proved competitive in Stow Longa screening, sowing them at relatively high seed rates and treating them with Take-Off to promote rooting has undoubtedly played its part here. The November moisture has kept our robust pre-ems working, so the black-grass is looking decidedly weak as well as small.


This gives us high hopes for the early post-em combinations of pyroxsulam, pendimethalin and flufenacet we’re following-up with to deal with already emerged and still germinating weeds.


Despite the lateness of drilling, we had most of our wheats Deter (clothianidin)-dressed. With such a high barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) risk from continuing aphid activity and early winter spray days much more limited, we did not want to rely on spraying for control.

As it is, the Agrii T-Sum BYDV forecasting service is currently showing untreated crops emerging in early November here already needing a spray and those sprayed in late October requiring a repeat treatment. In contrast, treated crops sown as early as the start of October remain adequately protected.

The dry autumn has certainly been beneficial on the disease front. We can still barely find mildew even in barley sown at high seed rates for black-grass competitiveness. At the same time, there’s very little phoma in most of our OSR which in some cases now has around 5-6 true leaves.

With soil temperatures low enough, sufficient moisture in the ground and reasonably open canopies, we’re just applying the propyzamide, accompanied by our first (and only) autumn fungicide – a combination of prothioconazole and tebuconazole, mainly to keep on top of any early light leaf spot.

Pigeons are a challenge we’re all too aware of as winter sets in. Thankfully, a decent supply of acorns and beech mast means they’ve yet to turn their attention to our rape. But we will not be the last around here putting the bangers out.

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