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Talking agronomy with Ken McTaggart: Nearing the end of drilling with considerable relief

We are moving towards the end of October and our final winter drillings with considerable relief, although still without the scale of pre-planting weed growth we really wanted on bad grassweed ground.

Almost all our oilseed rape has survived the flea beetle storm intact. Late August drillings are in really good shape, with nice even populations calf-high at six true leaves. In contrast, most early September-sown crops have three to four leaves, are rather gappy and could do with a continuing spell of kind weather. While they are still struggling, we have even been prepared to invest herbicide money in the two crops we had the most serious doubts about.

Of course, we do not know how much we will suffer from the larvae which we cannot do anything about. But just like establishment, we take comfort from the knowledge that the vigorous, fast-developing varieties we insist upon are the best at tolerating infestations.

Despite relatively little rain, a few good 10mm falls mean seedbeds have moistened-up well enough for good crop growth. And phoma has been notable by its absence. So the single mid-November prothioconazole/tebuconazole co-formulation we like to use to tidy-up any infections and bear down early on light leaf spot should be quite sufficient. To which we will be adding the boron we always find helps our crops overwinter.

The majority of our OSR has had a post-em herbicide to hold problem grass-weeds back. Both the clethodim we use where black-grass is the main issue and the cycloxydim we prefer on rye-grass appear to be doing a good job. This gives us the confidence to hold-off on our propyzamide until late November/early December when soil temperatures have cooled down and moisture levels have built-up enough for the best results.


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Even emergence

 

Rapid, even emergence in decent seedbeds means our earliest sown wheats are looking well at three leaves. Just enough moisture means pre-ems are doing a good job here. Any grass-weeds coming through have been looking very sickly, but we do not like to take any chances so they have had a post-em residual top-up wherever necessary.

 

Our latest wheat sowings – on the worst grass-weed fields – will be in the ground by the time you read this.


With grass-weed germination far slower than we would have liked this season, as planned, we are using particularly robust pre-em stacks and following-up with peri-ems in most cases to bear down as hard as we can on seedbed weed growth.

In another open autumn we are keeping a close eye on aphids. Despite Deter (prothioconazole + clothianidin) treatment, most of our wheat sowings up to and including mid-October will almost certainly be having an aphicide. This may not be the case with our latest drillings. But if it stays mild well into December – as it often does these days – they too may need a spray.

 

Conditions are proving just right for primary cultivations on heavy land due to go into spring barley. The ground is coming-up nicely without massive clods so should weather down well in time for the March planting we always prefer. Fingers crossed, this will allow us to get our crops drilled into decent seedbeds as rapidly as possible with the least risk, whether we have too much or too little moisture by this time.

In a good place too are the simple mixes we have been trying out to dip our toes into the cover cropping water – mostly ahead of maize as a nice safe place in the rotation. Ploughing means we can’t exploit any soil structuring value they may have, so we are seeing them mainly as nutrient-capturing green manures.

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