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Talking Agronomy with Sam Patchett Coping well with autumn extremes

After the wet of August, September gave us some welcome combining relief.
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However, with our pendulum of a climate swinging so comprehensively to the other extreme, neither cereal seedbed preparation nor rape establishment was easy. So we were grateful to have the tap turned back on at the start of October. As we move towards the end of the month, though, we could really do with a spell of less extreme conditions to let us to complete our early field-work.


Having said that, we really can’t complain with where we are at the moment. Most of our rape went in by September. Apart from a few two-leaved crops from later drillings into hard, cloddy seedbeds, the majority have forged ahead strongly over the past two to three weeks to produce up to eight massive leaves.


The fact most of our crops are hybrids – mainly DK ExPower, Harper and Incentive – has certainly helped, especially as we treated them all with Take-off. Our best establishment has definitely come from single pass systems. Conditions didn’t favour ploughing and moving the least amount of soil and preserving the greatest amount of moisture gave the rape a valuable advantage in the dry weather.


While they have been spraying flea beetle almost weekly up on the Wolds, apart from the odd pocket of pressure, I’m amazed how few problems we’ve had across our patch – and very thankful our worst early September fears were not realised. No more than 10% of our crops have needed more than a single insecticide.


Early slug concerns in our rape have eased massively too with a month of dryness. Although they are active again now, they are only really doing damage to the more backward crops from compromised seedbeds.


Sadly, it is a different story in the winter cereals. Slugs are relishing the wet October, with tender young ‘fodder’ emerging from drillings which started in mid-September and are now nearing completion. It is not nearly as bad as 2012 because the crops are growing away strongly. But we have had to be very attentive with pelleting on heavier land which didn’t plough-up well.


Min-till establishment has worked far better with our cereals too. As well as noticeably disadvantaging the slugs, it has improved the speed of early crop growth and the activity of pre-ems. Which is just as well, because the dry September seriously limited our pre-planting control. To make up for this we’ve been using more flufenacet -based products for our pre-emergence programs. Where black-grass or rye-grass is not an issue, we are going with early post-ems targeted at the annual meadow-grass where that is our main weed problem.


From here on, we’ll play a waiting game with grass-weeds. Having been surprised at how well it worked last year, clodinafop may again be very useful. I’m sure resistance will build up once more, but because it hasn’t been used for a good while up here it’s currently doing a good – and economic – job.


This fits perfectly with our overriding aim of driving yields while controlling costs. Keeping costs/tonne as low as we can is the biggest challenge with all our crops this season. We know the best way to do this is through highest yields. So we have to nip key performance threats firmly in the bud. At the same time, we need to avoid any inputs which are not strictly necessary. It’s a difficult balancing act.


And one which requires the most flexible approach, together with perpetual vigilance!


In this respect we are grateful not to have seen any myzus persicae in our rape yet. But, with surprising levels of bird-cherry aphids and continuing mild weather in the offing, we will almost certainly be including an insecticide with many of our post-em cereal sprays to protect against BYDV.


I’m happy to say the bulk of this season’s winter wheat is down to varieties such as Dickens, Relay, Revelation and JB Diego with much more robust rust resistance than those of the recent past. This should take the early yellow rust pressure off, allowing us to focus far better and more effectively on septoria control.


In the same way, Cassia is dominating our winter barley area. Mr Reliable it continues to prove up here.

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