We will soon be entering a new year, with arable land in the north east of England looking possibly the best I have seen it for a few years.
That’s quite a remarkable position to be in if we cast our mind back to last spring and summer and the woes of rain, cold and then drought we all endured.
This season, oilseed rape has had a shaky start but then raced away, helped by a good open autumn and plenty of base nutrition. Many canopies ended up quite large ahead of winter and should be able to withstand the worst of the weather and pigeon pressure.
We did see some flea beetle larvae in the stems of many crops from late autumn onwards but with no effective control options these will have to run their course. The peach potato aphid (Myzus persicae) did not show up in any numbers in our region – unlike in the South and East.
Of growing concern in the North is the area of sterile brome which is becoming resistant to FOP and DIM chemistry. Even propaquizafop, which was considered the best active when applied at full recommended rates, is having little impact. As usually happens, the weather broke just as we’d started applying propyzamide. Phoma came in late, meaning only one autumn fungicide was necessary which should give early light leaf spot protection. Clubroot has been less evident this autumn, I think partly because growers are seeing the value of maintaining soil pH ahead of oilseed rape.
With the warm autumn came increased aphid flights into cereal crops, especially those drilled early without Redigo Deter (prothioconazole + clothianidin). We have recommended the use of pyrethroids where we have seen aphids and/or the risk is high. With the open autumn and increasing resistance to available chemistry, there is no guarantee that barley yellow dwarf virus infection will not still be in crops come spring.
Mildew became quite an issue on much of our winter barley last autumn, partly due to good growing conditions and the lack of early frost. This highlights the weakness of many of our current barley varieties against this disease. In the end, some crops were treated and I’m sure we will see benefits of this later in the season.
Another consequence of the open autumn has been yellow rust in wheat. We are seeing quite high levels of yellow rust during over-wintering in varieties such as Gleam and RGT Gravity, alongside those with known lower rust scores. I have no plan to treat at present, but this serves as a reminder that only Costello, KWS Siskin and KWS Crispin have resistance at the seedling stage. Everything else has potential to develop rust. As we start to formulate variety plans for next season we need to consider that the loss of some of the older triazole fungicides will potentially make rust control more challenging, meaning resistant varieties will be even more attractive to agronomists and our growers.
With the open autumn, many of my growers also managed to apply SU herbicides for black-grass, brome and rye-grass in cereals. We now wait to see just how effective that programme was.
Nutrient management planning takes up a good chunk of my time during these winter months. I do this to help growers meet their cross-compliance and nitrate vulnerable zone requirements and to formulate a fertiliser plan for the coming spring. On the face of it, crops would appear to have more nitrogen carried over than last year due to the dry summer/autumn. However, we will have to see how the remainder of the winter unfolds to determine just how much remains for spring. With good soil structure and well established roots, many crops will be efficient phosphate scavengers. By contrast I believe potash may need more attention in view of the crop potential and the off-take in straw last harvest. As ever, testing is key to understand where your starting position is.
There’s still a long way to go to harvest but given the weather extremes of 2018, the crops I see in the North are generally in a great position as we move towards spring with optimism for a good growing season.