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Three things to think about when late drilling winter wheat

The extreme wet weather has severely delayed cereal drilling in most regions, and some growers still have the bulk of their winter crops to get in the ground.

Independent agronomist, Ben Boothman, who covers Yorkshire and the North East says around 40 per cent of his winter area has been drilled, but a lot of crops are sitting under water.

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Although the situation may be getting desperate for some, if drilling conditions are poor and seed cannot be covered, yield could be compromised, he says.


“I wouldn’t be mauling wheats into the ground as these seedbeds are not ideal and as we know from previous years, tend not to yield.”


This is particularly important for fields with a heavy black-grass burden, because they are unlikely to get sprayed, he adds.


“Even though drilling is delayed, with no herbicide at all, populations are likely to rocket in the spring and we can’t solely rely on SU spring herbicides as the one hit solution.”


Using a combination drill will be the most reliable tool is these situations, and direct drills may struggle, he adds. Meanwhile, barley drillings should be stopped as spring barley varieties will now outperform winter barley, he adds.


If it is possible to drill wheat in November/December, the negative impact of late drilling can be managed through variety choice, and Mr Boothman says there are three main characteristics to think about.


Autumn vigour, for good establishment and to maximise time for tillering; spring vigour for rapid movement making up for lost time from later drilling, while extending grain fill; and proven performance – both in yield and grain quality from later sown slots.


He says: “Skyfall has often performed well in the late slot following potatoes. Taller varieties tend to perform better in late sown situations - late drilling often means stiffer straw. Varieties such as LG Skyscraper, Gleam, RGT Gravity, KWS Kerrin and KWS Siskin are some of the favourites for the late drilling spot in the North.”

Seed rates


Seed rates will need to be increased as the season progresses, to compensate for reduced tillering.


Optimal seed rates for delayed drilling are:


  • In a good seed bed – 350-400 seeds m.sq
  • In a poor seed bed – 400-425 seeds m.sq
  • In a light soil - 350-375 seeds m.sq
  • In a heavy soil – 400-450 seeds m.sq

*Getting into the higher tillering types to help compensate.


  • In a good seed bed – 425-500 seeds m.sq
  • In a poor seed bed – 500+ seeds m.sq
  • In a light soil - 425-475 seeds m.sq
  • In a heavy soil – 500+ seeds m.sq

*Tougher position for winter crops, taller strawed varieties often perform better.

Yield penalty

As a rule of thumb, for each week that drilling is delayed between late September and late November, yield will be reduced by 0.2 tonnes/hectare, says Dr Pete Berry, ADAS.


“However, there is plenty of variation about this average. Yield reductions from late drilling are not always as great as many fear,” he says.


However, at some point it will become more profitable to drill a spring wheat variety.


“Evidence for a sowing date beyond which you should switch to a spring wheat variety is mixed, as some winter varieties can be superior right into January. If you are drilling winter wheat in the New Year then check the latest safe sowing date of the variety, which is usually the end of January or end of February,” Dr Berry advises.

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