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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan: The winter reminder

A seasonal change can help us know where our crops should be.

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Another year draws to a close and finally we see the first signs of winter’s arrival. After a prolonged wet and mild autumn this is needed to remind many crops of where they should be relative to the current calendar date.


Oilseed rape with three months of good growing conditions under its belt is unbelievably precocious. Large canopies seem to have been relatively unfazed by PGR treatments and these will be trapping high levels of N. No early top dressings and a possible reduction in overall N usage are the obvious benefits. Life without ‘those seed dressings’ has not been as problematic as we expected. Flea beetle activity and treatment have been uneventful and the virus threat from aphid vectors also less severe than predicted. For me, the only crops which came anywhere near threshold and received appropriate treatment were in the locality of substantial potato acreages.


Phoma treatments have been primarily single shot, and to date are still holding well. Finding dry foliage is always an issue at this time of year, but we seem to have coped.


Varietal differences seemed more apparent, but closely matched HGCA published data. With soil temperatures finally starting to decline, propyzamide is just starting to be applied and this will complete the grass-weed programme.


Early drilled cereals remain boisterous. Current indications and growth stages suggest a big PGR year ahead. Supply chain please note.


Disease levels in both wheat and barley are easily visible, and in some cases, causing concern. The topic of autumn fungicides is always good for generating some controversy. For me, on my light land, it should not be dismissed. The effects of mildew on root development are well understood.


Couple this with an insatiable demand for manganese and the need for an extra pass seems justified. Even more so this season with the added requirement for topping up aphicidal protection.


Residual herbicide efficacy appears adequate at this moment, but I am sure overall persistence will have been dented by the copious rainfall.


Already some of the culprits which will need post-emergence follow up treatments are clearly visible. As I write this, ground conditions are improving and spray days look feasible. As expected, slugs have enjoyed this autumn.


Control has been achieved, but at a price, and lessons hard learned include just how variable pellet integrity and spreading ability can be.


Looking back over the season, the costs of fungicide programmes in wheat have sparked much debate. Big spends in a bad disease year are not that unusual, but concerns over reduced efficacy seem to be growing. We need to understand what is happening out in our crops to counteract this.


Resistance to our existing fungicide chemistry is a real threat, particularly to the newest weapon in our armoury, SDHIs. Break these at our peril, for the development pipeline is pretty bare. Our science is good enough to get some more years out of our current products if

we react wisely. Unfortunately the politics from the EU do not always help us…Many of our key azoles may be lost to us if an ongoing consultation finds they may be classified as endocrine disruptors. Any health impact should be non-negotiable, but it must be underwritten by good science.


Hang up your boots and be festive…Happy New Year.


  • 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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