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Talking roots with Darryl Shailes: Dealing with drought legacy

In 1976 I’m told the weather broke about now, August bank holiday weekend and then it didn’t stop raining until winter. Legend has it that potatoes were planted in snow and lifted in snow - but I’m told they were well worth the effort and should be this year too.

Well it broke a bit earlier this time around - we had our first significant rain since May at the end of July - and now we’ve had about 65mm or more in places.

 

It took a bit for the grass to green up in the garden. The first rain hardly had any effect, but over the last 10 days the grass has come back with a vengeance and the lawn mower is once again in regular use. The cattle on the river meadows are also enjoying the new growth as it looked pretty unappetising for a while. It’s just as well as we’ve developed a taste for those grass-fed steaks - hearing them sizzling on the BBQ has been a treat during the long hot summer since we managed to find a local butcher who sells them.

 

Sugar beet have really picked up since the rain and are now looking really well. I saw my first mildew at the end of July. Its appearance was a bit delayed this season due to the Beast from the East, as predicted by the BBRO mildew risk model which takes frost into account. However, encouraged by the hot sunny days and strong dews many untreated crops are now full of mildew.


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Cercospora

 

The recent rains, as well as helping the beet grow, have also triggered cercospora and we’re getting reports of infection in most areas. With strobilurin resistance being found in the UK we need to be especially careful with follow up treatments. Epoxiconazole is really helping to control this very damaging disease from what I’ve seen in the field, but be careful, as only a few products have a sugar beet approval.

 

Potatoes are also recovering to a certain extent but many unirrigated fields are still struggling and yields will be down in many of these fields. I’ve not seen a huge amount of secondary growth myself as all the crops I’m involved in are fully irrigated, but I’ve seen some horrendous photos of tuber problems from unirrigated fields. This level of sprouting is unprecedented for most and will have an effect on sugars and subsequent fry colours, plus it may be a struggle to manage sprouting in ambient stores due to early dormancy break.

 

Maleic hydrazide, introduced in the 1950s, does have an effect on preventing secondary growth as we all know, but for best effect it has to be applied before the secondary growth starts.

 

For many crops the timing was right in the full heat of the summer, when temperatures were in the 30s and many crops suffering from both drought and heat stress. This was not the best of conditions for applying maleic hydrazide to produce the best effect. Sprouting control may also be reduced this season due to the heat and stressed crops, so stores will need close monitoring earlier in the season than normal.

 

The recent rains will have helped to fill up the soil and reduce the soil moisture deficit, which must have been 100mm or more in some unirrigated fields. With many crops approaching desiccation this reduction in SMD should have the benefit of reducing the amount of bruising at harvest. Research has shown that many varieties bruise quite badly if burnt off when they are very dry. Ideally soil moisture deficits of around 30mm should be the target where possible to reduce bruising - wetting of soils post burn down has much less effect.

 

Ah well it’s raining again, but it is the August bank holiday after all.

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