March has got off to a cold, wet start but growers must be patient when it comes to spring planting, otherwise crop establishment could be compromised, say advisers.
Yorkshire-based Hutchinsons agronomist Robert Barker says: “Soil temperatures in this area are currently below the March average of around 5.5 deg C and are too cold for drilling. Winter crops do not generally start to grow until soils reach 5 deg C upwards, so ideally that would be the minimum temperature for spring sowing.”
But, while warm soils will boost germination and early growth, the bigger issue is soil moisture. He says: “Melting snow from earlier in the month combined with more recent rain has left many areas saturated and far too wet for land to be worked.”
Mr Barker urges growers to wait for underlying soil conditions to dry out sufficiently before cultivating or drilling.
“On heavy land in particular, you can soon do a lot of damage by working soils when they are too wet, which will prevent spring crops rooting properly and may cause lasting structural damage. It is not just about drilling, conditions also have to allow you to get land rolled and fertiliser and pre-emergence herbicides applied straight away.
“Spring crops have such a short growing period, once they are in you cannot afford to let anything impede growth, as yield potential will be dramatically reduced.”
He suggests young bean plants in particular will be adversely affected by frost after emergence. Beans also struggle if they are sat in wet soils, so although they are often regarded as a more robust crop, he says it is still worth waiting for the right conditions for drilling.
Wet conditions are also preventing many potato growers from progressing with ground preparations. Agrovista agronomist, Andy Stevens says: “There is still a lot of ground preparation to be done before planting starts in April, meaning a later start to planting is more likely, and any excess rainfall could also cause greater pressure on the crop.
“Patience and care are vital to ensure that soil preparation is done at the right time without creating compaction, either on the surface or deeper within the soil profile, which can then have an impact on yield.”
Where potato planting is likely to be delayed, he says it is vital that seed deliveries arriving on farm are kept in good condition until soils warm up.
He says: “Look after the seed well before it is taken to the field by ensuring it is put in to clean boxes and stored at the appropriate temperature, otherwise humidity and condensation will breed disease.”