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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan: slow but hopeful progress

The battle to ensure successful establishment of this year’s oilseed rape crop has begun
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Despite an early start, this year’s harvest has turned out to be a protracted affair. It is rare for us to cut wheat in July but now, with September marching briskly on, there remain large tracts of wheat still waiting for the combine. Progress has been slow but hopefully the recent upturn with the weather will finally rectify this. Decisions to leave straw in the swath will also have an effect on timeliness of oilseed rape drilling and stubble management decisions.


Yields have generally been pleasing and quality encouraging. Most barleys received the approval of the maltsters and early harvested milling wheat had appropriate protein and hagberg levels. This soon reduces as harvest delays lengthen. Nevertheless a big pile in the shed is some small antidote in a year of such weak market prices.


The sunshine which arrived in July was very welcome and should take much of the credit, but in a year of high disease pressure, I feel the new fungicide chemistry has performed well. A quick look at the untreated plots in any variety trial shows what could been. Quite a sobering thought, but worthy of consideration when making those critical variety decisions.


The battle to ensure successful establishment of this years oilseed rape crop has begun. Seed costs combined with those of a worthwhile pre-emergence herbicide represent a significant investment before the crop is even out of the ground. It would appear the acreage is showing some decline but I feel growers are fully aware of the potential threats and reacting accordingly.


So far the flea beetle issue is not yet as bad as I feared but there is still time. Slug populations, particularly on stronger land, worry me more, and a good night’s grazing can decimate a crop. Baiting points remain a key factor in pellet choice. Invasion inward from grass margins continues to hurt and provides yet another solid reason to build ferric phosphate into your programme. Sorting these two pests out is not the end of it; turnip yellows virus continues to become more widespread and the damage it causes is probably greater than we all realise. The main aphid vector seems pretty untroubled by pyrethroids, so we need to be vigilant and use appropriate chemistry when necessary. That just leaves the pigeons to sort out.


A new season gives us the chance to review our black-grass control strategy again. Results from last year underline just how widespread and pernicious this weed is. The industry is united in its efforts to combat this threat and we are now starting to get positive guidance on the way forward. Chemistry has a role to play, but only if we can substantially reduce our seed numbers. To do this, we need a fundamental and radical overhaul to the way in which we grow our crops. Cultural methods need to come to the fore, be understood, and implemented.


It remains clear there is no one single answer to this increasing problem, and the results we need will only begin to show as part of a thoroughly planned programme. In-field trials with cover crops are starting to produce some exciting new data, particularly when used in conjunction with spring cropping. Fields with previously unacceptable black-grass burdens are coming back into production. Maybe we have started to turn the corner.


  • 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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