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Talking agronomy with Andrew Roy: Use change to adapt and grow

It has been an unusual start to 2019, with only six millimetres of rain in the first three weeks allied to mild temperatures.

As a result, crops have continued to grow on into the winter months but, with land unseasonably dry, some growers are contemplating cultivations ahead of sowing spring barley and beans. However, I am hopeful that recent snow on the Cleveland Hills signals the start of some ‘normal’ winter weather to help keep any pests and diseases in check and allow the crops a natural pause in growth.

 

While rain has been somewhat scarce, pigeons have not. Flocks are now increasing, grazing what are generally well-established oilseed rape crops. With the ongoing crop growth we have experienced, I am not unduly concerned about our feathered friends at the moment – they may even be doing us a favour.

 

Clubroot is more widespread than I first thought and definitely one to assess through the winter months before we start planning spring inputs. Cabbage stem flea beetle larvae are now evident in the leaf petioles of many OSR plants, although not at the extreme levels reported further south. We still have very little light leaf spot too but we will need to keep vigilant from now onwards. The performance of propyzamide is not perfect and we will be looking towards February applications of carbetamide to finish off any surviving black-grass and ryegrass.

 

Looking at the winter wheat crop, both mildew and some yellow rust still linger but I remain hopeful that the winter weather will impact these. Manganese is beginning to show in some winter cereal crops and will be a priority when growth resumes.

 


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Spring beans

 

We are hoping that spring beans will go in earlier than last year and I’m planning seed rates of 45 to 55 seeds/sq.m depending on conditions. We’ve never drilled in January before and my gut feeling is that it is too early for our region so we will aim for late February onwards. Likewise, it is early enough for spring barley too, unless you are on good, free-draining soils. Where a spring crop is being used to tackle black-grass, a later drilling window will be more beneficial in terms of cultural control.

 

We are currently in the middle of our winter conferences, meetings and various compliance updates with customers. This is an important time of year for us and an opportunity to update our knowledge and strategies for the coming season. Crucially, it should be noted that 2018 saw the introduction of new water rules which now require all farms (whether or not in a nitrate vulnerable zone) to do a Nutrient Management Plan and, where appropriate, Manure Management Plan. There is also a requirement to test soils for phosphate, potash and magnesium on a maximum five year cycle. A calculation of Soil Nitrogen Supply (SNS) should be made along with the N Max calculation. The Integrated Pest Management Plan is also required for crop assurance schemes and is a good way to review on farm plant protection practices.

 

There will be many challenges ahead for us this year, not least the continued loss of active ingredients. The withdrawal of metaldehyde was a disappointment, especially considering the efforts many of us went to in terms of product stewardship. Similarly, the loss of diquat will create questions around the growing of peas and linseed in our area. This is also likely to be the last season for some of our stalwart triazoles as the rulings on endocrine disruptor classification take hold. In addition, chlorothalonil will be another active to watch as we await a decision on its future.

 

Although these withdrawals can present as obstacles, they do bring opportunities for renewed thinking and planning to maintain crop output. In fact, they serve as a reminder that agronomic decisions should not be made in isolation and that considered, integrated approaches will be increasingly necessary as we move through 2019.