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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan: the overall situation this year is far superior to 12 months ago

Autumn aphid pressure was high but the weather did not allow the required follow up treatments
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The days are gradually starting to lengthen as February rolls on but the ground conditions over here in the West remain sodden. My daily trips to the rain gauge only serve to increase my frustration levels. Jobs outstanding since before Christmas remain and many spray applications have seen cut off dates come and go.


Even so, the overall situation this year is far superior to 12 months ago. A rapid start to autumn establishment has paid dividends and there are plenty of green fields with useful looking crops. Last year they were hard to find, this year we just can’t get to them. As ever there a few late patches which are struggling with adverse conditions and one or two which evaded the drill completely. After last year, spring barley does not seem such a bad option.


So what is happening out there? Most crops of wheat look reasonably well. Levels of yellow rust, particularly in Solstice, continue to give cause for concern. Early treatments, while being an additional cost, will go a long way to keeping the problem in check this season.


Weed control looks to have been quite respectable, with products being kind to most crops. Outstanding grass-weed issues will get sorted at the first opportunity. I am sure root development will have been curtailed during the monsoon and this will impact on growth regulator programmes.


Forward crops with dubious root mass need extra help to ensure they reach the combine standing up.


One other issue will be the amount of BYDV which shows up in crops where control was dependent on foliar pyrethroid applications.


Autumn aphid pressure was high but the weather did not allow the required follow up treatments.


I am just happy to enjoy the oilseed rape at the moment. The crop is stress free compared to the trauma of last year. Forward crops with high GAIs should treated with restraint. Make the canopy too thick with early N and the problems caused will be detrimental to yield.


The crop’s need for sulphur will also influence the amount of N which goes on in the first dose. Combined products sometimes dictate the need for compromise. New PGR technology in oilseed rape will really come into its own this season, with early applications for lodging risk and later ones for effective canopy management. These will need tailoring to fit around fungicide requirements.

Light leaf spot

Yet again levels of light leaf spot look to be on the rampage. It remains to be seen how the loss of neonicotinoids impacts on next year’s establishment.


Another vogue topic is that revolving around crop potentials and yield enhancement. Whether driven by ambition or the decreasing availability of land, the whole concept is extremely exciting. Science can now tell us the actual potential yield of our crops and these are way ahead of our current achievements.


We need to get behind initiatives such as this. Imagine chasing wheat yields of 15-16 tonnes per hectare. From my perspective it is a great chance to think outside the box, and to break free of current restraints. This fits in nicely with all the work being done to understand how our new SDHI fungicides promote yield in the absence of disease.


A better understanding of these physiological aspects can only be beneficial. What then? More grain storage would be a good start.


  • 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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