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Talking Agronomy with Chris Martin: Time for reflection

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With the shooting season now in full flow and Christmas rapidly approaching, I guess it is a good time to reflect on 2015.

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Chris Martin reflects on the 2015 arable season #talkingagronomy

With the shooting season now in full flow and Christmas rapidly approaching, I guess it is a good time to reflect on 2015.

 

Had it not been for the dismal prices, it would have been an exceptional year as the yields of combinable crops in the North East have been unprecedented, to the extent we now have world records for both wheat and oilseed rape in the region.

 

See also: Farmers praised for bumper UK harvest

 

I am constantly told at grower meetings the last year we had such big yields across wheat, barley and oilseed rape was back in 1984, so it may be a while before we repeat these yields again.

 

Undoubtedly the key influence for the big harvest was the weather and in particular the combination of lots of sunshine combined with cool temperatures.

 

The harvestable yield of a crop is principally determined by the difference between gains of dry matter through the process of photosynthesis and a series of losses of which respiration and non-harvestable material predominate, and the weather conditions ensured this process was efficient as it had been for many years in the UK.


Six of the first seven months of the year had more sunshine hours than usual, and it was the sunniest April since 1929. This probably ensured we set up good potential with high tiller numbers and grain sites.

 

The second key factor was although we had plenty of sunshine, temperatures were not too hot, and notably in June we had a period of cool nights which were critical as it meant we didn’t lose so many of the gains made by photosynthesis in the day through excess respiration during the night.

 

Disease control

Disease control

A further key factor was the lack of disease epidemics, particularly with septoria tritici.

 

While there were plenty of septoria lesions on leaves at the start of the season, the cool and dry spring ensured this did not materialise into the epidemic it could have in a warm, wet spring.

 

Early fungicide timings were also not compromised, meaning products were generally applied in a more protectant situation where they are still showing useful activity against septoria, and despite the perceived view of a low disease year, there was still a very positive yield response to SDHI chemistry at the T1 timing.

 

See also: An 'unusually large response to T1 fungicides is a feature of 2015 season


Going forward, SDHI fungicide applications at T1 are likely to become increasingly important for septoria tritici control as if you remain in a protectant scenario, it will allow you to continue to build the programme as the season progresses, but if you get it wrong and let the disease develop, its like shutting the door after the horse has bolted

 

Looking ahead to 2016

I’m looking forward to 2016 with a quiet optimism. While there is no sign on the horizon of significantly better prices, most crops have established well and are entering winter in a pretty good state, albeit some fields sitting a little wetter than what would be desired.


Residual herbicides have generally worked pretty well, although in the usual suspect fields, difficult grass-weeds appear to be becoming increasingly tolerant or resistant to our ever-diminishing chemistry set, and going forward in these fields, radical changes in cropping policy may be required.


Using specific cover crops to condition and dry out heavy soils bringing in new drilling windows such as later autumn sowing or making spring cropping more reliable on heavy land is looking an increasingly attractive option, particularly when they allow the commercial crop to be sown with minimal soil disturbance.

 

This technique is proving very efficient at allowing growers to continue to farm these difficult fields profitably, while reducing black-grass populations and improving soil structure and biology.


With the gate now firmly shut on most fields until the spring now, it’s time to wax the skis and head off to snowier climates. Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and happy and prosperous 2016.

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