Sowing has been a ‘stop start’ affair in many parts of the country this year; while soil temperatures were suitable, prolonged spells of rain have held up ground operations for some growers.
The general advice for anyone on very light land who is concerned about lack of moisture and still has seed left to sow is to remain patient. Attempts at trying to counter the situation by drilling at a shallower depth may prove unwise if a dry spell follows.
The effects of the wide drilling window which has marked the 2014 season will not become apparent until later in the growing year.
However, all the maize destined for biogas production will have been sown by now, with most forage crops also in the ground.
Mike Corp of Procam believes this year may be high risk for eyespot and other diseases, such as helminthosporium. He issues a warning to growers, including those in areas where the disease has not been recorded in the past.
He says: “The warm, wet weather could put some crops at risk this year, by encouraging the development and spread of fungal infections. Eyespot has historically been considered a disease which occurs in the west of the country and many producers in counties such as Devon and Cornwall, spray their crops with a fungicide as a matter of course.
“If the products they use also contain a strobilurin, then it is possible to achieve a modest yield increase, because the chemical will extend the grain fill period. This will improve both grain and starch yields.
“This year, however, other areas of the South West could also be vulnerable and over the past few seasons, there have been reports of eyespot on land further towards the East. An eyespot infection is extremely serious, as once the disease catches hold the plant will shut down and there will be little more growth, or starch production, from that point on.”
Eyespot is characterised by the appearance of small yellow lesions within a brown ring. Affected areas of the leaf will appear translucent when held up to the light, adds Mr Corp.
With black-grass considered the number one weed threat on many farms, growers are increasingly looking to maize, as a means of tackling the problem. Its usefulness has been highlighted partly because of the withdrawal of a number of effective active ingredients from the market place. Les Faulkner, of Heygates, says the temporary ban on neonicotinoid dressings, which protect maize crops from pests including wireworm and leather jackets, is one such regrettable loss.
“The ban has meant some producers have had to stop sowing maize after grass, because the risk of wireworm,” he says. “But despite a number of challenging years for maize growing, my milk producer clients have remained committed to the crop.
“It really is unrivalled as a source of energy in any diet for high-yielding dairy cows and all the signs so far indicate this could be a good growing year.”
Francis Dunne, of Field Options, describes the weed burden as ‘fairly average’ at this stage, but says he always advises the use of a pre-emergence herbicide.
“I am a great believer in using a pre-em,” says Mr Dunne. “Post-emergence products generally contain the most effective chemistry, but applying a pre-em spray acts as an insurance policy.
“There have been years when bad weather in late-May and early June has seriously delayed post-em treatments and weeds have got out of control. This is especially relevant to livestock producers, who do not always have efficient spray machinery and may have to rely on a busy contractor. Maize is a very sensitive crop and it does not like competition, so the effect is potentially very serious.”
A product such as Stomp (pendimethalin) is relatively cheap and offers a good opportunity to tackle weeds pre-emergence, adds Mr Dunne.
“Most agronomists prefer their clients to use a pre-em, because it buys them some time, so they can inspect all the fields under their care later in the season, without worrying too much about weed issues. The pre-em will knock out a percentage of the weeds and weaken others. That means a post-em may not be necessary and if that is the case, then it is a win-win situation.”
Growers who ordered their seed late may have found their chosen variety is unavailable. This is largely due to seed crops faring poorly last year, coupled with high demand for maize seed in other parts of Europe. Following on from two very difficult seasons, the popularity of varieties with good early vigour has further increased and at present, just five varieties make up more than 35 per cent of the total UK crop.
Mr Dunne says he hopes producers who drilled early selected high vigour varieties, as the seed would have been sitting in cold wet soils for at least a four-week period.
“In our country, the weather in May can be colder than it is in March, so good early vigour is always a desirable trait,” says Mr Dunne.
“Conditions at the start of the season may have been an improvement on the previous couple of years, but they cannot be described as ideal. Therefore, even varieties with the ability to withstand difficult conditions have had to be managed with care, if they are to meet their yield potential at harvest.”
Mr Dunne also notes producers who were keen to apply farmyard manure early on in the winter spreading period may end up paying a price.
“I have noticed problems with compaction in cases like these. Farmyard manure can be a real asset to fields used for maize production, but the advantages to be gained by spreading have to be weighed up against the risk of damaging soil structure. Maize may look robust, but it is an extremely sensitive crop and conditions have to be right, in order to achieve a good level of performance.”
Producers are urged to make use of the KWS-UK web-based heat units service, which is available free of charge. Growers enter their farm postcode to receive information about temperature levels in their region, which can help with making crop management decisions. The free service is updated weekly and will run until October. For more information, visit www.kws-uk.com