Welcome to our new crop walk and talk feature. We will be taking a regular look at crop development and condition in various locations across the UK and getting some expert agronomic advice. Abby Kellett reports.
Our first crop walk took us to Great Ayton in Yorkshire with Frontier agronomist, Andrew Roy where we looked at oilseed rape (OSR), wheat and barley crops, as well as Frontier trial plots.
In this region, extensive flooding has been the most recent of arable challenges, with some crops in the North West and Scotland suffering for over a week under water. This is likely to have affected different crops in different ways.
Mr Roy said: "Oilseed rape is fairly intolerant of water. It’s a crop that likes aerobic conditions around the rooting zone. It will stand a few days, but beyond four or five days under water we are going to start to see some crop losses.
"Cereal crops are more resilient, but again, anything more than a week under water is concerning."
Wheat, barley and OSR have all established well. Plant numbers are high which has allowed for good ground coverage. The potential is there but while it is tempting to count your chickens, a lot can happen between now and harvest.
Mr Roy said: We have good crops to manage and certainly the early sown crops that were sown into dry conditions have a lot of potential.
"Crops that are going to be the biggest challenge are the last sown, late sown where people pushed on in poor wet conditions. Those crops have gone in poorly and have had wet feet since sowing.”
With growers unable to get on with land operations, there is a backlog of spraying in the region which is having the most damaging effect on OSR.
Mr Roy said: "The primary target at the moment is, as well as getting up to date with propyzamide applications, is the concern about light leaf spot. This is a major concern in this region.
"In a bad year, we can lose up to one tonne per hectare from light leaf spot, so control at this time is very important."
See also: Keeping ahead of light leaf spot
Although light leaf spot incidence was not high, Mr Roy emphasised the need to take action early in order to adequately control the disease.
"There is little sign of light leaf spot yet, but that wouldn't deter me from putting a fungicide on preventively because that is the best way to use fungicides to control light leaf spot. If you wait until you can see it is usually too late,” said Mr Roy.
While phoma has been late to arrive, its incidence is now fairly high in some regions, in particular where sowing rates have been high and where crop canopies are dense.
However, despite the mild weather, phoma disease does not seem to be affecting the newly emerging leaves yet, which is encouraging.
"Control of this disease will be difficult at this time of year, but we will still get some late control and some prevention of cankers on the stems,” said Mr Roy.
In terms of crop development, the oilseed rape crop is still in the vegetative state, with plants varying from five to eight leaves or more.
Although its absolute growth stage may not be much more advanced than in previous years, the extensive top growth of oilseed rape poses a problem in achieving optimal yield potential.
Mr Roy said: "Crop canopies have continued to grow for an extra three to four weeks more than usual. This is a slight concern at the moment given the lack of winter weather. Most canopies across the country are ahead of where you would like them to be.
"There is still time for a correction, we haven’t really had winter yet but I am sure it will arrive.
"Cold weather will sort out some of the other issues in the crop as well, such as over-winter aphids and will help with phoma control by knocking leaves off."
While the extra top-growth is helping to suppress weeks, it makes applying soil based herbicides difficult.
"Dense crop canopies make trying to put Kerb or propyzamide onto the soil difficult. Although late, hopefully we will get these products on by the cut-off point at the end of January.
"The crop has good potential as it has a good root development and we know with rape, final performance is strongly linked to root development."
Winter barley crops across the country are looking healthy and, as with OSR, they are looking advanced in terms of growth.
Mr Roy said: "Crops are looking surprisingly green considering the amount of rainfall and the fact that we are now well into winter; I think mild temperatures have had a lot to do with this.
"Although we expect soil nitrogen levels aren’t massive, because of the mild weather mineralisation has been very efficient and crops at the minute look quite healthy."
Mr Roy is predicting a shortage of soil nitrogen. "I think as crops move forward into the spring, crops are quickly going to change and will run out of nitrogen quite abruptly."
Early nitrogen application, certainly on barley crops, will be very important in the coming weeks.
The main agronomy issue at the moment is the lack of herbicide applied to some crops. "Farmers should be thinking about finishing residual spraying as soon as they can travel," said Mr Roy.
"This is important in winter barley as we have not got the grass-weed SU options that we have in winter wheat."
Unlike the OSR crops viewed, the more advanced winter barley crops were hosting quite high levels of foliar disease, particularly mildew.
This is something that will require close assessment over the next few weeks.
"Coming out of winter consideration of foliar disease is very important. Mildew in particular will affect the crop in terms of grain development in the early stages of growth,” said Mr Roy.
However, less forward crops are looking a lot cleaner. KWS Tower, which is usually fairly susceptible to mildew, had reasonably clean leaves and was looking good, he added.
Wheat was at various stages of tillering. Even later-drilled crops are now comfortably tillering away while the more advanced are towards the end of tillering. “No wheat is starting to extend yet so I am quite happy with the stage of growth,” said Mr Roy.
“The only problem areas are some of the late-sown crops drilled in marginal conditions where land was wet and we are seeing some effects on those crops from the wet, mild weather."
While winter wheat crops in the North generally look fairly clean, in the South East there are reports of high levels of yellow rust.
Mr Roy said: "We are not seeing high levels of rust in this region. This is partly due to the fact we have seen a switch to less-susceptible varieties and partly due to the colder climate in the North.
"We need to see what the winter brings before we start rushing around with fungicides. Certainly, attention will be on the T0 as we get into early April for farmers in the Northern regions."
In terms of chemical control of black-grass, most of the worst black-grass sites have had quite a robust residual programme, with or without Avadex (tri-allate), and pre-emergence herbicide applications have been crucial.