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Talking agronomy with Ken McTaggart: Gearing spring fieldwork carefully to conditions

It is mid-February, and with the icy start we had to the month – not to mention well over two inches of rain in the past week – we are very glad we did not rush into much in the way of early fieldwork.

Spring barley drilling is firmly on the horizon as soon as soil conditions permit. But we still are not in any rush.

 

No early winter waterlogging means most of our autumn prepared soils are in good shape. But they need to time to drain down and warm up enough to give us the quality seedbeds we want. Even with the settled spell we are enjoying, it looks like being another couple of weeks before we reach this point.

 

As soon as we do though, we are geared up to make the most of every weather window – going in with pre-planting glyphosate, drilling into seedbeds with the least possible soil movement, applying a decent amount of seedbed N and consolidating well, in quick succession. Then we will top-up with the rest of the nitrogen as soon as the tramlines are visible.

 

With most crops well-rooted and in a good place, we are not in any rush with our winter crop agronomy either. Having said that, we do not want crops going hungry. Nor do we want to see any of the substantial potential they are clearly carrying unnecessarily robbed by weeds, pests or disease.


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Fertiliser

 

We are looking to get 60-70kg N/hectare plus sulphur onto our winter OSR at the earliest opportunity. All our GAIs are well below 1.0, so the crops need some solid canopy building support. Thankfully, however, despite the acute establishment challenge they faced, we have good stands with plenty of growth below ground.

 

Apart from patches with more larvae than we have seen in the past, overall burdens continue to be far less concerning than we feared they might be. Some good early nutrition should allow the vigorous varieties we are growing to compensate for any main raceme losses or stunting. Holding off on any plant growth regulation should also help, especially since none of our crops are massively tall or overgrown.

 

Although we have seen some phoma come in from late-January, the resistant varieties we are growing means we do not have any real worries. So far too, light leaf spot is noticeable by its absence and we should be able to hold back our spring fungicide spraying until green bud to keep a lid on any problems while giving the greatest flexibility to our sclerotinia programme.

 

Should we need any growth regulation at this stage we have found the specialist PGR, Toprex valuable in managing the canopy for the most even flowering. We always use a fungicide with it where LLS control is important, though. And we are especially careful wherever we have potatoes in the rotation, in which case we prefer a prothioconazole/tebuconazole co-formulation with added tebuconazole.

 

Once we have got the nitrogen onto the OSRs, our attention will switch to the wheats – prioritising the second wheats and later-sown first wheats which can always use extra support for rooting and tillering. We will start off with 50-70 kg/ha plus sulphur, tending to nudge up rates slightly as an insurance against cold, wet conditions getting in the way of subsequent splits.

 

We are generally pleased with our grassweed control this season, although some early wild oat tidying-up will also be on our March agenda. Increasing resistance means we are relying more on Atlantis-type chemistry to deal with it these days.

 

Spring germinating ryegrass is another headache, but something we find we can stay on top of with a combination of Broadway Star-type chemistry (pyroxsulam + florasulam) at or around T1 when things growing well. This also is also valuable where brome is a problem and gives us useful extra wild oat as well as broadleaved weed control.

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