As I write in early February, there seems to be little, if any, prospect of the good week or two of winter cold which would have been ideal for our crops. The Atlantic depressions have just kept on rolling in, keeping us virtually frost-free and adding more than enough moisture to raise the possibility of serious early spring fieldwork delays.
Unless we see a marked change in the weather soon, it does not look like much of our ground will be fit to travel until well into March and we may be talking late in the month before we can get on in many cases.
Immediately we can travel, one of our first jobs will be to tidy up competitive weeds like black-grass and rye-grass - especially where the weather got in the way of autumn treatment. Because it has stayed so mild we will be adding a pyrethroid in most cases here to keep aphids well in check.
As well as the septoria we can find in just about every crop now, yellow rust infections have become obvious at a number of trial sites.
And not just in the most susceptible varieties either. Even more worrying, perhaps, is the threat from brown rust in a season which, so far, bears a resemblance to 2006/7 when the disease proved devastating. Not least because we have detected active brown rust in early drilled wheat at our Borders trial site.
What opened the door to the brown rust epidemic in 2007 were growers who did not apply a T0, brought their T1s forward to counter an early septoria threat and then left too long for the disease to cycle ahead of T2.
Add this to the current septoria threat and if ever there were a year not to do without an early fungicide, this would be it. The average 0.35 tonnes/hectare response we’ve recorded to a T0 across our trial base over the past 14 years - from a low of 0.16t/ha last season to 0.8t/ha in 2012 - underlines how valuable it is.
To the multi-site activity of Phoenix (folpet) we will be adding flutriafol or Brutus (epoxiconazole + metconazole) for varieties which need particular rust protection. Either that or we will employ a combination of chlorothalonil and tebuconazole. Where rust is not a threat we will be going with straight Phoenix (epoxiconazole).
With good early plant growth regulation crucial with forward crops, T0 will be the start of our PGR programme wherever possible too, with Adjust our first choice for its activity before conditions warm up enough for ordinary chlormequat.
The mild weather also means we will be on alert for light leaf spot in OSR. And, providing we can travel, we won’t be waiting for the start of stem extension before treating any infections we find with Kestrel (prothioconazole + tebuconazole).
Being so well-grown, many of our crops will be needing a dose of Juventus (metconazole) at early stem extension too. The good start this will provide to the sclerotinia programme makes it doubly valuable in a season where cost control is more essential than ever.
Having found molybdenum and boron deficiency in almost every soil test I have had done locally over the past four years, these trace elements will be included in our stem extension sprays as a matter of course.
Pollen beetle is another key threat we will have to be on our guard against at green bud stage with forward crops in a mild season. I won’t be waiting until the buds are obvious before checking though. Instead, I will be opening up enclosed buds well within the plant as we move through March to make sure we identify any potential problems from the outset.