True to form, March has come in like a lamb - and I hope that is where any similarity to the old adage ends. In too many past seasons spring fever has proved premature. Even so, ground continues to dry better than expected and soil temperatures are rising steadily.
Glimpses of the first tractors out in fields are a welcome sight after many months of inactivity - almost like hearing the first cuckoo!
Soil mineral nitrogen results, while confirming some loss of N, also tell us that it currently resides at depths of between 60 and 90cm.
This is a long way down for a rooting system which has been in virtual shut down for the last few months. This has to be balanced with the high levels of captured N held within our early drilled forward crops and must be taken into account, both financially and agronomically. Judicious use of early N still has a role to play this season. You cannot go back in time when the season turns dry.
Keeping crops standing this year will be quite a challenge. We have a good armoury to work with and the key areas revolve around enhancing root mass and stem shortening and thickening. Starting early is key to my strategy, particularly this season with the high number of leggy, forward crops. Split applications will instrumental to success. Heavy reliance on later treatments can be a high-risk option without the firm foundation derived from earlier treatments. Either way, I suspect product supply may be an issue this year.
Much energy has been expended on fine-tuning fungicide strategy over the last few months. Wheat prices are not at desired levels and programme costs will be under close scrutiny. Product choice becomes ever more significant and I do worry some cost reductions maybe sought for the wrong reasons. If budget restraint has to have a role, then it cannot be early in the crop’s life.
Cutbacks at this stage can totally undermine yield potential. There is plenty of good science highlighting the diminishing efficacy of triazoles and the return to prominence of multisite protectant products. Consider this with the impact on yield of new SDHI chemistry on well-established crops and their cost would seem to be more than justified. Originally they arrived to market clearly targeted for flag leaf application but many, myself included, feel that their role at T1 is becoming increasingly important.
Right now it is T0 choice that is being debated. Over here in the West, septoria remains our key problem. Infection levels are visibly high in crops. Rusts must never be underestimated and eyespot levels are well above average in susceptible varieties with mildew continuing to thrive in the absence of winter weather. Decision making will have to balance all of this. T0 used to be regarded as the Cinderella of a fungicide programme. Far from it; this year, cornerstone would be more appropriate.
Products used will always vary according to individual preference but the importance of correct timing and good application is vital. Too much value passes through your sprayer for this aspect to be sidelined. Nozzle choice and configuration can have a dramatic impact on results, and this should be linked in with boom height, drift and speed. Better results for the same cost - it works for me.