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Talking Agronomy with Sam Patchett: as we move into September, it’s far from over

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Conditions that have really got in the way of the wheat harvest have been generally helpful for oilseed rape planting
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Well, it’s certainly been a curate’s egg of a harvest up here. Parts have definitely been good. But, despite a far kinder winter and spring than last time round, combining has been a real mixed bag.

 

And, as we move into the first week of September, it’s far from over, with mounting concerns over grain quality.

 

Although winter wheat was good, August storms means there is still about half the crop to bring in (as of September 3). The ‘R’ word has been just as unmentionable to most of our growers this past month.

 

Thankfully, all our winter barley and rape came off before the weather broke down. At 7.5-8.5 t/ha, the barley generally did okay, with Volume and Cassia delivering particularly good samples as well as yields.

 

Disappointingly, though, after looking so promising in the early summer, the rape proved to be nothing special. A reasonable harvest average of 4t/ha hid a variation in performance - from barely 3.5 t/ha right up to nearly 5 t/ha.

 

OSR clearly suffered from a lack of sunlight during pod fill and more and more light leaf spot problems became apparent as the season went on. With this in mind, everyone needs to be alert to the fact that infections generally enter the crop in the early winter. They may be hard to separate from trace element deficiencies at this stage but, with the disease becoming so much more of a UK-wide threat these days, we may even need to contemplate spraying in November on occasion.

 

Septoria has been the key challenge with our winter wheats this year. While we’ve brought in good quality crops up around the 10t/ha mark, the disease has definitely been the main reason for some doing only about 7.5t/ha.

 

Wheats with specific weights on the low side have generally struggled quality-wise this season, while higher ‘spec weight’ varieties such as Dickens and JB Diego have produced good samples. The huge difference we’ve seen in the quality of grain from identical varieties harvested this last week compared to two weeks ago suggests there may be a serious lack of quality in many cases, even if we don’t get significant fusarium problems.

Oilseed rape drilling

Conditions that have really got in the way of the wheat harvest have been generally helpful for oilseed rape planting - 70-80% of our 2015 crop went into good seedbeds before September 1, and the first sowings are just showing through.

 

Slug thresholds have been well reached in many cases, so we’ve been baiting with ferric phosphate rather than metaldehyde wherever possible, using quality pellets for the best possible weather resistance.

 

Alongside slugs, flea beetles are our key concern just now. Not least, because we’ve already seen tell-tale shot-holing damage to volunteers in OSR stubbles. We’ve chosen the most vigorous, fast-developing varieties, treated them with Take-off and are on red alert to go in with insecticides at the first sign of significant damage.

 

Talking of current headaches, the new CAP takes some beating. We know the three crop rule could mean less second wheat and, probably also, winter barley for many. We also know more spring sowing will be on the cards, and pulses look like being a good opportunity. But until the powers-that-be finalise the Environmental Focus Area details we’re can’t make the decisions we urgently need to.

 

  • Sam Patchett is an Agrii agronomist based in Yorkshire. He provides agronomy, crop nutrition and seed services to clients growing cereals, oilseed rape, maize and fodder beet across West and South Yorkshire and also helps run Agrii’s Brotherton R&D site near Selby.
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