There is somewhat of a north/south divide when it comes to the degree to which black-grass is now influencing wheat drilling decisions.
Although this may be a generalisation, with farms both north and south bucking the trend, northern farms have tended to have more crops in the rotation, rather than the wheat, rape, wheat pattern, which developed in the South, says Frontier northern seeds manager David Waite.
The wheat/oilseed rape/wheat rotation contributed to grass-weed problems further south, he says. “They are not rushing to sow in the first half of September. In the North there has been quite a lot of wheat sown in the last couple of weeks and it will carry on for another couple of weeks.
“In the South some wheat has been sown but where there are grass-weed problems they are delaying. Whether this will be enough or we’ll see an increase in spring cropping is an interesting one.”
Saxon Agriculture seed sales director John Shepherd says recent dry weather means black-grass has failed to germinate, delaying drilling by 10 days to a fortnight compared with last year. “There is a significant threat of a bigger spring crop but whether this happens or not I don’t know or whether farmers will carry on drilling more wheat.”
Milling wheat varieties such as Skyfall, KWS Siskin and KWS Lili continue to prove popular. Mr Shepherd says his company has sold out of Group 3 varieties Barrel and Basset and that Evolution and Dickens are top sellers for it in Group 4.
Seed merchants agree that growers are paying more attention to pest and disease factors when selecting varieties. “I’m not sure it will necessarily dramatically reduce fungicide spend but it is helping them manage risk,” says Mr Waite.
“If you have a 1000-acre farm and grow 500 acres of wheat you’re not going to be able to spray it all in one or even two days. A spread of varieties, some with better disease resistance, especially to septoria tritici, allows a window to go and spray.”
Speed of crop development in oilseed rape is becoming an increasingly important factor influencing variety choice, says Ross Dawson, Agrii seed and naked oat product manager. “If a crop is slow to develop, flea beetle is a massive issue without neonics. So ‘quick to develop’ is one of the considerations.”
Hybrid Monsanto variety DK Exalte and conventional variety Nikita from Limagrain have proved popular, says Mr Dawson. “The spread of hybrids and conventionals has been in favour of hybrids this year.”
A survey of 64 growers conducted by BASF seems to confirm this, suggesting hybrids could make up 72 per cent of the rape area sown this autumn. While 25 per cent said they were planning to home save seed, up from 19 per cent in the previous year.
A generally poor winter barley harvest may have caused a drop in acreage of the crop, suggests Mr Dawson. “Spring barley performed well across a lot of areas but winter barley was dreadful this year. A drop in acreage could be a reaction to how bad this year’s harvest was.”
However, Mr Waite believes there may have been a slight increase in winter barley in his area. “Winter malting barley is dominated by Talisman and Venture. For feed barley Tower, Glacier, Orwell and Infinity are popular.”
The jury is still out on whether there will be a move to more spring cropping. “Growers were pleased with spring barley which could cause more of an uptick,” says Mr Dawson. “Spring barley is an option for black-grass control.”
Mr Waite believes there could be an increase of 5-10% in spring cropping in England. “It’s a battle of nerves and how long farmers hold their nerve. You cannot rely on too big a percentage of spring cropping. The weather can be fickle in spring.”