Talking Agronomy with Vicki Brooks: Positive thinking after an encouraging harvest

arableBlack-grassArable FarmingHarvest+-

Mid-August and we are feeling a lot more positive about life than we were a few weeks ago.


Like many, our harvest didn’t start off too well, with winter barleys struggling to do 7.5 tonnes/hectare against a normal 8-10t/ha and bushel weights barely 60kg/hl.

Things started looking up once we got into the winter rapes, though. They came in around the 3.5-4t/ha we normally expect, with imazamox-resistant Clearfield crops showing slight yield deficits to ordinary ‘double lows’.

Then winter rye at record levels of up to 9.5t/ha gave our spirits a real boost. And the icing on the cake were winter wheat yields near the top end of our five-year averages at 9.5-12t/ha. For the most part too, we’ve had decent bread wheat proteins, bushel weights and Hagbergs.

Generally better yields from later-maturing wheats which have made the best use of an unusual amount of summer rain mean we’ve high hopes for both spring wheats and barleys which are still a week or so off combining as I write in mid-August.

Along with far better grain prices than this time last year – although still not where we want them to be – and welcome Government assurances on agricultural support for the next few years, this means we’re going into the new season in a rather better place than we’d been fearing.

With black-grass, slugs, flea beetle, septoria, barley yellow dwarf virus and light leaf spot – to name but a few key concerns – we’ve more than enough challenges ahead. So balancing our agronomy carefully and flexibly to deal with the main threats we face within strict budgets will be more crucial than ever.

Our ability to do this in oilseed rape has definitely been helped by a big swing to varieties, with very much better disease resistance and all-round agronomy. Most of this season’s crops have also profited from a good starter fertiliser, as well as take-off seed dressing to boost early growth and development.


Our rape drilling has been earlier than in the past. But we’ve deliberately not gone too early to minimise any threat from the cabbage root fly which can be so destructive in our field vegetables. After all, the last thing we want to do in trying to avoid flea beetle damage is to play into the hands of this equally destructive,

earlier-arriving insect.

They may be noticeable by their absence just now, but slugs are our number one OSR priority for the next few weeks. We saw huge populations ahead of harvest. So we know they’re hiding away just down the soil profile and we’re well-prepared with close monitoring and detailed pelleting plans to combat their inevitable re-emergence with the rain.

Even though flea beetles weren’t a serious problem for us last year, we’re also well-stocked with pyrethroid sprays to tackle them, plus the Kantor (adjuvant) we’ve found really improves kill rates.

Thankfully, most of our wheat won’t be planted into black-grass ground before October. So, following the Stow Longa recipe, we’ve cultivated early and are intent on avoiding any further tillage before spraying-off with glyphosate just ahead of drilling when we’ll move as little soil as we can to keep as much black-grass as possible asleep.


More immediately, on ground where earlier autumn sowing is essential we’ll be prioritising the hybrid barleys which Colin Lloyd and his team have shown to be much more competitive than wheats but need to be in by the end of September.


Arable Farming
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