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Talking agronomy with Ken McTaggart: Starting harvest with quiet optimism

By the time you read this we should be well into the wheat harvest.

Mid-July and the combines are making a determined start on the winter barley, thankfully rather later than last year and with more encouraging early yields.

 

The first of our rape is due to be cut this week. It was all sprayed off at the beginning of the month, standing well and looking nice and even, without any lumpiness. So we are looking forward to seeing how it actually delivers.


We are also looking forward to bringing in some good looking stands of wheat.

 

We will be disappointed if yields are not in-line with our long-term average of 11 tonnes/hectares plus for Groups 1s on decent ground.

 

Disease

 

Apart from having to give one crop of Crusoe a late fungicide top-up to deal with brown rust following a timing issue at T3, we have had few disease problems.

 

However, my research colleagues’ variety trials show it has been far from a low disease season.

 

Both yellow and brown rust have romped away in their untreated plots, with surprising levels of yellow rust in both established varieties and candidates with good Recommended List (RL) resistance scores.


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Many untreated plots were looking much the worse for wear by mid-June at their Kent site, while plots receiving reasonably robust treatment programmes alongside them had plenty of green leaf area, regardless of variety.

 

Resistance


The Agrii Advisory List produced from last season’s trial data to complement the RL highlights a number of varieties as much lower in rust resistance than their RL ratings.

 

And, from what we are seeing this season, many of these scores are set to decline still further.

 

Knowing exactly where the current weaknesses of the varieties we are growing lie is vital with today’s chemistry giving us so little curative activity.

 

That way we can make sure to protect them as well as we can even where early season disease development appears subdued.

 

This intelligence also allows us to avoid taking unnecessary risks with our variety choice.

 

For the past two years we have been moving away from Crusoe and into KWS Zyatt alongside Skyfall to do just this.

 

Recognising the extent to which the newer Group 1 has also become much more susceptible to yellow rust than its RL ratings suggest means we have gone into this with our eyes wide open.

Flea beetle

 

Variety choice to manage risk has become more important with our OSR too as we have seen flea beetle infestations escalate.

 

Although we didn’t experience the levels of pest pressure many came under in the very dry autumn, vigorous hybrids that grow away fast from the start and take-off early in the spring really helped us weather our own particular storm.

 

So they will be priorities for us again this autumn.

 

We are not keen on moving our OSR drilling too far forward in August; mainly because we can get some very forward crops from late August and early September drillings anyway.

 

Last autumn’s experience has, however, reinforced our determination to only drill our rape when we know we have sufficient moisture in the ground as well as giving it the best possible seedbeds, seed placement, seed-to-soil contact and seedbed fertilisation.

In several cases, we are also seriously considering companion cropping as an aid to overall establishment.

 

My research colleagues have seen interesting reductions in flea beetle larval levels from a particular buckwheat/berseem clover mix that looks especially promising. So this could be a valuable addition to our agronomic defences.

 

Farewell

 

That is for the future, though. And for someone else to report on, as I move back to the Scottish Borders to manage the farm I grew-up on and hand over the Talking Agronomy baton.

 

I have really enjoyed my time holding it and can only hope the experience I have been able to share has been of some value to at least some of you.

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