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Talking Agronomy with Chris Martin: Reflecting on this years harvest

One of the nicest problems experienced in the region this harvest has been finding enough room to store the grain.
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Chris Martin talks agronomy: Reflecting on this year's harvest #talkingagronomy #arable

If it wasn’t for the depressing commodity prices, it would have been one of the best harvests in decades. So why were yields so good? I think a lot goes back to the old saying ‘Well sown, half grown’. Crops certainly established well and evenly last autumn with enough moisture to ensure good performance from the residual herbicides. A relatively dry winter and early spring encouraged root development, yet there was enough moisture to encourage early nitrogen uptake and tiller survival.


The dry spring played a major role in reducing disease pressure, and the bright, but not too hot days of early summer ensured good seed and grain fill, producing the big yields in oilseed rape, winter barley and the early wheat varieties.


While later wheat varieties also performed extremely well, I think we would have seen world record yields if the cool, bright conditions had continued throughout July and early August to really finish them off. On the subject of record yields, I am constantly asked what the secret to Steve Tuer’s 7.2 tonne/hectare oilseed rape crop grown near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, was.


Essentially the weather as described above and highly fertile, well structured land were the two key ingredients backed up with attention to detail when it came to husbandry and agronomy – with two key focuses. Firstly to give the crop the opportunity to produce a large, unrestricted root system, and secondly to build a crop canopy designed to maximise seed numbers and seed size.


The aim was to build a canopy with a Green Area Index of about 3.5-4 at the end of flowering, when seed number is determined with plenty of green leaf to allow the crop to photosynthesise as efficiently as possible during this key period maximising seed number. Having maximised seed number the aim was then to fill the seeds to capacity by avoiding any lodging and by keeping the canopy alive and healthy for as long as possible.


To achieve these goals, the crop was drilled at 35 seeds/sq.m in early September with the aim of creating a crop consisting of about 25 evenly-spaced plants/sq.m in the spring. The canopy was then managed through nitrogen rates and timings designed to create this optimum canopy. Late foliar nitrogen was also applied with the second sclerotinia spray to help prolong green area duration. The crop received a robust autumn and spring fungicide programme and foliar nutrient applications of boron and molybdenum, but certainly had no ‘magic potions’.


At the time of writing, the jet stream has moved south yet again bringing in a series of low pressures to interrupt early drilling, which had got off to a good start in the region. While it is clear delayed sowing can have a big impact in reducing grass-weed pressure, as we move through October, it gets more difficult to hold our nerve and delay drilling in case the weather really closes in leading to poor crop establishment or no winter crop at all.


To reduce this risk it is important to sow a vigorous variety proven in the late drilling slot such as Leeds, Conqueror or Santiago. The variety Belepi, could also be a useful choice as has the flexibility to be sown right through into the spring if the weather goes against you. Increasing seed rates is also very important as establishment generally starts to drop off significantly during this period.

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