In the North East, May was a good month. We had sunshine, above average temperatures and just enough rainfall towards the end. June started cool, with an easterly air flow bringing coastal haar (sea fret) but then that is a standard feature here.
Winter wheat crops are varied but overall have improved quite dramatically. As I write this we are just planning our T3 fungicides and most crops are fairly short and clean, with septoria held on leaf 4 or 5. For us, the T3 is a no-brainer with a long way to harvest and the chance of varied weather in this period. At the moment, the dry conditions are only a concern on lighter soils but we will need some meaningful rain soon.
It looks like another year for hybrid barleys, which seem to have coped with the harsh conditions of early spring far better than two-rows. Winter oats should also do well, having successfully fought the adverse weather too.
The oilseed rape crop has had a tough season, accounting for huge variation across our region. We’ll soon be starting to apply pod sealants, ideally ahead of desiccants to help reduce pod shatter.
Spring crops, although drilled late, have made rapid progress after recent rain. However, they will need frequent showers to ensure they meet their full potential.
As the workload on winter crops reduces, we begin showing growers around our trial and development centres. As always, there will be much interest in winter wheat variety selection for next season. In the good old days it was all about yield and, to a certain extent, market outlet. Now, there are many considerations and genetic disease resistance is well up there. In wheat, the septoria rating is a vital component of a disease control strategy. Drilling a low septoria-rated variety early is a hiding to nothing.
There are now strong varieties out there, with some great plant resistance finally available in the fight against septoria. Yellow rust is much trickier to predict, with only Costello, Crispin and Siskin giving reliable resistance to the disease at the seedling stage. Unfortunately, we have seen rust in most varieties this season including newcomers like Gravity with a disease rating of 8.
Remember though that the rust score relates to resistance observed in the previous season. The AHDB list gives a really useful guide to the varieties but the performance of each one is so site specific that individual farm performance is what really counts. There is no perfect variety, but I’ve always thought matching one to a suitable rotational position, site and drilling date certainly helps. Spending a year at a time with them, you certainly get to know their idiosyncrasies.
Planning for the new cropping season used to be simple; it was just a matter of choosing which variety to grow. However, with mounting grass-weed pressure this process is becoming more complicated, even for the North East farmer. Black-grass, although not widespread, is more evident this year and is appearing in places previously unaffected. Sometimes it is an occasional patch or scattering of random plants, often traced to a baler, combine or farmyard manure. I am encouraging growers to rogue or spray off surviving plants and to make rotational changes to prevent field-scale problems. In some ways we are lucky in the North, as we can draw on experience gained from the black-grass hotspots of the South and East. We are deploying the main cultural weapons such as a move to spring barley established after numerous stale seedbeds.
Our resistant rye-grass problems are more difficult to control culturally, as rye-grass has a habit of emerging throughout the year meaning spring drilling is of limited use. An oilseed rape crop is still a good cleaning crop for rye-grass, provided propyzamide and the rest of the herbicide armoury is used. We’ve also had really good results with winter beans, where again propyzamide helps greatly.