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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan: An encouraging month

Delayed product is bad enough, insufficient product is even worse
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May has come round again and arable prospects continue to look encouraging. Final top dressings are being loaded onto wheat crops, oilseed rape follow up treatments for sclerotinia have gone on, SP5 forms have long been submitted, all on time and online.


Spring cropping in all its various guises is now centre stage and receiving appropriate attention. My pulse acreage continues to rise, while spring barley returns to a more normal acreage in the hands of traditional growers. Much of this is destined for the maltsters, so nitrogen levels must be managed to the required specifications. Propino and Concerto remain my stalwart varieties, but this season sees the arrival of Odyssey. Time will tell if it is a genuine contender.


The topic of flag leaf treatments on wheat always sparks lively debate and there is wealth of information available to aid and support the decision making process. Everyone involved has a slightly different approach but the aim of green leaf retention remains the key driver.


Balancing spray intervals with leaf emergence has not been easy, and for many, an additional pass will have been necessary, particularly with rust susceptible varieties. This season, however, another factor has come into play.


Along with high disease levels and advanced crops, we have also had to contend with serious product supply issues. Once the prescription is written, the problem will only be resolved when the sprayer leaves the field. There should be no compromise on timing of key fungicide inputs and anything that impacts on this is just bad news.


Delayed product is bad enough, insufficient product is even worse. I am well aware such criticism is easy but it is born from the frustration we feel at the sharp end out on farm. Well-planned strategies tend to lose impetus in the scramble to secure alternative chemistry. Such problems are in total conflict with modern arable production. I am sure all concerned will strive to find a workable solution. It is too important to ignore.


Levels of slug activity in wheat continue to confound me. The early morning sight of young juveniles grazing on leaf 3 is not normally on my radar at this time of year. No hard winter frosts and adequate moisture are just a big bonus for slug populations. Revenge treatments will do little to help, economically or environmentally, but crop establishment in the autumn is likely to be a major battleground. We all understand and appreciate the need for metaldehyde stewardship but the recent revocation of methiocarb comes as a real blow. This will leave the remaining actives with a huge void to fill. In the event of a bad autumn that will present an enormous challenge. Suddenly the options involving cultural control gain new significance.


Maize drilling continues apace. This crop has seen a dramatic expansion over here in the West. No longer just forage crop, its role as a principle feedstock for the ever-increasing number of AD plants is key to this increase. As a consequence, wheat crops on these farms will be at much higher risk from fusarium. Timing and choice of T3 treatments will need to take this into account. These projects will also produce large quantities of digestate and we need to quickly assess how best to utilise this.


  • 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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