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Talking agronomy with Ken McTaggart: Playing the waiting game in early crop care

The calm, dry start to the New Year provided a welcome opportunity to give late-drilled wheats after roots and vegetables a timely residual herbicide top-up with extra contact action to deal with weeds continuing to emerge in another decidedly warm December.

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Particularly good soil conditions have also allowed the late wheat drilling window to be extended in some cases and led to quite a bit of talk about early spring barley drilling.


Thankfully, this has only been talk. In our experience, most farms have much more to lose than to gain from getting the drill back out so soon. After all, it is only mid-January, so there is plenty of winter to come to do early-sown spring crops an awful lot of harm.


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The last thing they need is to sit in the ground with little or no growth at the mercy of another Beast from the East – which the Met Office has just warned could well be on the cards for early February, if not before.

 

Our best spring barleys invariably come from crops that get away quickly from sowing into decent seedbeds and warming temperatures in March. So, just like delayed wheat drilling on bad grass-weed ground, patience has to be our watchword here.

 

Rapid

 

We are not rushing to confirm GAIs on our winter rape crops just yet either. At the moment, they are looking nicely forward. But we won’t be giving them their first spring N until mid-February at the earliest. Knowing how rapidly OSR can go backwards and how voracious pigeons can be when it turns cold and wet, we will wait until just before the fertiliser goes on to fine-tune our applications. That way we really do match what we apply to what our canopies need.

Growing

 

The plenty of relatively late-drilled wheats we have this season should be getting their first nitrogen and sulphur towards the end of the month too. With maximum rooting and tillering our key objective here – not least to insure them against another long, hot summer – any more backward crops may be in line for a timely Nutri-Phite PGA boost. Again, though, only when we know exactly what we are facing and once they are actively growing.

 

 

Fungicides

 

As we look ahead to the spring and beyond we do so acutely conscious of the gathering pace of fungicide registration losses. While the days of some triazoles are clearly numbered, new EU criteria for endocrine disruptors mean the existing registrations of certain key products have been extended for a year, possibly longer. Thankfully, this means we should be able to use them for at least the coming two seasons.


Not so some other triazoles which will only be available for use this season. Alongside this, of course, fenpropimorph cannot be sold after the end of October and will have to be used by November 2020. And, despite the industry’s very best efforts, a number of other important actives are under serious threat.

Cultural controls

 

Under these circumstances, we must use the breathing space we have to bolster disease management strategies making the most of vital cultural controls like varietal resistance, drilling dates and rotations, not to mention soil health and plant nutrition to improve overall crop health and resilience. At the same time, increasing care will be essential in when and how we use the crop protection products that remain, with the premium on the best decision support tools and application technologies.

 

Finally here, I have to mention the B-word. The industry is stocking-up well ahead of the end of next month in case of import disruption. Even so, with limited capacity in the distribution network , growers would be well-advised to ensure they have supplies of the bulkier products they need, in particular, on farm rather earlier than normal this spring.

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