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Talking agronomy with Maddy Vaughan: It is worth remembering why you are growing spring crops

The cold weather has finally arrived and the end of January looks set to be cold, albeit mostly dry. Indeed, the winter weather so far has been kind (perhaps too kind?) with temperatures barely dropping below zero and rainfall almost insignificant for this time of year.

Many growers are taking advantage of the dry weather and getting on the land. Travelling around the countryside over the last few weeks, I have seen ploughs going, fertiliser spreaders in operation and even a few drills out.

 

With last year’s late, cold and wet spring still very much fresh in the memory, growers are keen not to get caught out again; a very understandable attitude given the poor spring crops many farmers ended up with last year as a result of late drilling and then the immediate onset of drought.

 

However, with January only just kicking up its heels at us there is still time for some cold and wet weather to come, including sharp frosts and freezing ground. Warming and drying seedbeds is normally the prompt that spring drilling should begin. Indeed, when starting out as an agronomist I remember a grower telling me he knew it was time to get the drill out when he could sit on the ground with his trousers down and it be a comfortable temperature. It is a technique I admit I don’t adopt, but the principle was still there; we want to plant into a warming seedbed which will encourage rapid germination and growth.

 

It is also worth remembering why you are growing spring crops. If, as for many, it is a tool to control black-grass then you may be caught out with a black-grass germination flush as seedbeds begin to warm in March – an opportunity missed for stale seedbeds if you have planted your spring crop early. With limited grass-weed herbicide options for most spring crops, the use of cultural techniques is paramount in spring crops to ensure grass-weed control; stale seedbeds and competitive crops being high on the list.


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Sugar beet growers

 

For sugar beet growers this year, the loss of neonicotinoid seed dressings will mean planting timing will be crucial, with the crop needing to quickly establish and develop to outgrow the threat of virus yellows transmission from aphids as quickly as possible. Plants become naturally more resistant to aphid attack and virus infection after the 12-leaf stage so quick establishment and good growing conditions will be crucial. With only one one application of Teppeki (flonicamid) permitted and the main vector for virus yellows being Myzus persicae, of which currently 89% of the UK population has complete resistance to pyrethroid and carbamate insecticides, virus threat will be a real concern this spring.

 

Looking forward to the season ahead in cereals, we will have the standard options of chlorothalonil and epoxiconazole still open to us this year. However, their future in our chemistry armoury is looking uncertain, with revocations of both a threat over the next 12 months.

 

Currently out on-farm, winter wheat is harbouring some disease, with mildew and septoria being found in forward, thicker crops. Cold weather between now and March would help stifle some of this early disease. However it is useful to take note of the most affected fields and varieties to help plan for your early fungicide approach. Propyzamide applications on OSR have now been completed and control looks to be variable. If it has been applied recently, be patient as it takes time for the onion-like base to develop in the black-grass plants showing the effects of treatment. Hopefully in later applications, together with the colder temperatures on the forecast, the weed will soon start to show symptoms of stress and we can all breath a sigh of relief.

 

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