In north east England, we are used to challenging springs but this one stood out, even by our standards. The only consolation is the whole country shared our ‘northern spring’.
Unsurprisingly, crops emerged slowly and field work is a month behind for most. As I look at the crops I manage, two factors stand out; drainage and availability of early nitrogen.
Our wet spring highlighted inadequate field drainage. Regardless of cultivation system, the impact of conditions at drilling is clear in relation to compaction and water movement.
Availability of early nitrogen is critical. With low levels of overwintered nitrogen, early applications were vital for crop canopies, particularly in winter barley. Farms that historically apply organic manure generally look better. I have found urea frustrating this year with late applications delaying crop uptake.
Spring finally arrived and May brought a frantic catch up with drilling, fertilising and spraying. For agronomists, there was frenetic tracking of crop development and planning of treatments into a compressed timescale.
Septoria is the dominant disease present in crops of wheat although it’s only obvious in early-drilled crop, lush canopies and susceptible varieties. For many crops, T1 was SDHI/azole-based to aid curative activity – the exception being resistant varieties and late-drilled crops. Yellow rust lingered in many varieties, excluding Costello and Siskin. Mildew levels were high in late winter but crops made a comeback as canopies built. Saturated soils from winter and early spring have also encouraged eyespot development. Without wall-to-wall black-grass in the north, we aim for early drilling, and I believe these crops are looking best this season. However, as annual northern grass-weed pressures build it won’t be long before drilling dates are delayed here.
Late-drilled crops this year are a reminder of how unsuccessful this approach can be in the north. Brome is a challenge for us; it’s a ‘cultivation weed’ encouraged by impatient drilling and a lack of time for stale seedbeds. While autumn treatments worked well on sterile brome, spring follow-ups have been heavily delayed. Despite this, results with pyroxsulam + florasulam based herbicides have been favourable due to good temperatures and adequate moisture.
Another headache in the north can be Italian ryegrass. Due to resistance, a large residual stack is the only option. While this mostly worked last autumn, what remains is uncontrollable. In the worst cases, silaging is the best solution.
Winter barley is varied, again due to drainage and early nitrogen timing. Crops drilled and given nitrogen early with the right spray plan look good. Like wheat, T0 opportunities largely disappeared meaning a robust T1 was needed to combat mounting rhynchosporium/mildew pressure. On some of the susceptible two-row varieties, losing early treatment allowed rhyncho to establish which we are now chasing.
Mildew is quite widespread. Treatments focus on ramularia again this year; I think the weather favours its development. Generally, hybrids look better than two-rows with improved resistance to rhyncho.
Winter oilseed rape received sclerotinia protection at full flower and I have seen more seed weevil than normal. Crop conditions vary between earlier-drilled crops and those drilled in less than ideal conditions. Oilseed rape brilliantly highlights drainage and compaction issues which influence crop performance. The ‘problem’ crops are those suffering prolonged waterlogging which irrevocably damages roots.
Spring cereals that were drilled have emerged well from reasonable seedbeds. Spring pulses emerged late into a wave of pea and bean weevil pressure. There will inevitably be some fallow, with many people drilling cover crops to improve soil ahead of autumn crops.
Ironically, despite this, it doesn’t take long for us to worry about lack of moisture. As I write this in May, we have had a couple of weeks with no rain and I am relieved to see it is forecast for the weekend.