Officially, we were one of the five driest parts of the country in May, with just 0.4mm of rain. Even so, we lost nearly a fortnight of spray days to frost and high winds, adding to the pressure of coping with such variable crops.
This has meant being very brave with our sugar beet, in particular using some big mixes and making difficult decisions on whether to prioritise broad-leaf weeds or get the clethodim on. Inter-row hoeing certainly helped here.
The crops have lapped up the decent rain most – but by no means all – received in the first half of June. My young cocker spaniel has experienced walking wet crops for the first time.
Although it is amazing how well the backward areas of many crops have caught up, sadly the rain was too late for some, which are unlikely to see the combine. Careful planning will be essential to set these fields up for next season, especially so if the rain now doesn’t know when to stop.
Our winter wheats are almost all in ear – a great sight after the gamble of drilling well into March.
So far, disease pressures have been well contained in most cases, although there is reduced green leaf in the few fields where conditions really got in the way of T2 spraying.
Yellow rust has been the main culprit, but weather challenges around T2 timing and now the rain make us heartily glad we stuck to our usual robust early disease control programme on the septoria front too.
We are equally glad we stuck to our guns with a pre-awn PGR for our barley crops despite the dry weather.
The early summer rain is bound to stimulate the same sort of growth spurt, upper stem weakening and brackling that was so damaging to many poorly growth regulated crops last season.
A cost-effective earwash is the final consideration for our wheats. This will be based firmly on prothioconazole for milling crops, with a combination of fast acting tebuconazole and long lasting bromuconazole the minimum elsewhere.
With reduced uptake of nitrogen from our spring applications, we have replaced our planned 40kg/hectare of N late milling wheat applications with a foliar treatment.
While the hot, dry spring has helped contain disease, it has also meant much greater insect pressure everywhere.
Alongside the earlier-than-normal gout fly infestations in wheats and aphid arrival in sugar beet I mentioned last month, both lemon and orange blossom midges have given us real headaches. With thresholds reached, we have also had to get insecticides on earlier and to a greater extent than we like to deal with pea aphid and pea moth.
As a result, we are making an even greater effort than normal to hold off from treating our beans for bruchid beetle so predator levels can build. Knowing the damage bruchids can do, this is not easy. But we know it is almost impossible to get the timing spot on with the contact armoury we have, even with multiple sprays.
Having struggled through the wet winter then flea beetle pressure, the oilseed rape hasn’t enjoyed the bone-dry spring either. The sheer range of pod maturities in fields won’t make desiccation timing easy.
To maximise yield and oil content and minimise red seed, we will be holding off from the glyphosate for as long as possible. But this really heightens the risk of seed shedding. So, with varieties that don’t have genetic pod shatter resistance, in particular, the proven pod sticker Iskay will be a priority.
It will be a pleasure to shut the gate on this season and start afresh on the next. Apart from having the firmest foundation to disease control and being as flexible as we can in every element of our agronomy, the value of targeted micro-nutrition based on careful growth stage tissue analysis interpretation has been especially important in helping our crops deal with the extremes of weather fast becoming the norm.