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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan: A fast approaching harvest

Evidence of a strong surge back to pulses is already clear
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Harvest is approaching rapidly and it is the time of year when the results of all our labours are clear for everyone to see. On balance, crops look well and vastly better than 12 months ago. The sunshine which was desperately needed finally arrived and will hopefully prove to be the catalyst for good yields.


Market prices, however, continue to be a concern to all and those growers closely monitoring their unit cost of production will be quickly aware that the figures don’t make pleasant reading. To all of us involved in food production and the quest to help ensure our food security, the situation we find ourselves in seems somewhat bizarre.


Throughout the growing season, our disease control strategies have the simple objective of keeping the flag leaf clean, but now with harvest in sight and new crop establishment plans starting to be formulated, a slight conflict begins to appear: green leaf retention can possibly delay a prompt start to combining. All those later maturing varieties will benefit from a helping hand. It makes sense to manage your harvest with appropriate usage of glyphosate. Lower moisture, earlier starts/later finishes, easier baling/chopping along with clean stubbles all go a long way to help achieve optimum timing for autumn drillings. This will be particularly relevant for oilseed rape this autumn.


Life without neonicotinoid seed dressings on oilseed rape is going to make good establishment seriously challenging, a fact to which those people with failed oilseed rape this spring will happily testify. Seed companies have made terrific efforts to help by ensuring supplies of some varieties dressed with alternatives. They will help but do not expect too much as they may disappoint. Make a point of clarifying what else has gone on to the seed as the desperate pursuit of flea beetle activity will sometimes necessitate the omission of a fungicidal treatment and that could also have dire consequences.

Seedbed conditions

Attention to detail and timing will be critical to help the crop get away quickly. Seedbed conditions must allow good seed to soil contact, along with sufficient moisture to aid rapid germination. Pick a variety with good autumn vigour and decide on a nutritional programme before drilling, not as an afterthought.


Seed costs and essential pre-emergence herbicides are a big early spend on oilseed rape so the issue of avoiding losing crops to autumn predators is vital.


Slug populations are high. Underestimate this threat at your peril. Our dependence on ferric phosphate is set to increase again and for good reason. Proven strong activity against juveniles and the ability to treat to the crop edge work well, and tick the right environmental boxes. I worry more about the predicted rise in pyrethroid usage this autumn and the impact that may have. Every recommendation needs extra consideration this year - labels need careful scrutiny to ensure max doses and buffer zones are adhered to.


CAP reform is also starting to focus the mind. Diversification rules and Environmental Focus Areas (EFAs) need careful thought to avoid unforeseen rotational complications. Evidence of a strong surge back to pulses is already clear, and the need for spring cropping and cover crops to help combat the grass weed menace is clear for all to see. Currently the West is without this scourge and it is vital that it stays this way.


  • Neil Buchanan is an Agrovista agronomist based in Shropshire. He advises clients across the West Midlands, growing cereals, oilseed rape, pulses and potatoes.
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