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Talking Agronomy with Sarah Symes: Fingers crossed for the weather

Wheat crops are looking promising in many areas where substantial fungicide programmes were applied
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It looks as though much finger crossing paid off at the start of June and the hot dry spell of weather enabled growers to catch up.


Whether it was maize drilling, silage cuts or spraying, things were looking to be up together by the end of June. As a result of the hot dry weather in mid-June, OSR crops went off very quickly and desiccation had started by the last week of June on the lighter land.


Questions are being asked about the threat of flea beetle in next year’s crops with the ban on Cruiser (thiomethoxam) and Modesto (clothianidin + beta-cyfluthrin)-dressed seed. Flea beetle may be a serious problem during establishment, especially if the weather is dry. This will mean constant monitoring and spraying of crops for the first month or so until they look strong enough for them to no longer be affected.


So with the threat of flea beetle and the usual slug battle on heavier land, careful consideration of seed rates is more poignant this year.


Perhaps taking them from the usual 80 seeds/sq.m to 100 seeds/sq.m for a conventional variety and from 40seeds/sq.m to 50 seeds/sq.m for a hybrid will give some reassurance. But this comes with risk as if all of the plants establish a thick crop will not yield as well and will be at risk from lodging.


Wheat crops are looking promising in many areas where substantial fungicide programmes were applied and punctually. They will hopefully achieve respectable yields despite the disease pressure and weed burden faced this year. Many crops have seen late flushes of cleavers, black-grass or brome, so may require pre-harvest desiccation, which will also even them up. The dry weather during flowering has eased the pressure on fusarium being found at harvest so hopefully risk assessments will come out as being low risk.


A NIAB TAG open day proved to be very interesting and showcased some new varieties to look out for, along with untreated plots of existing varieties. Crusoe and Skyfall are full of potential for this coming year and may well replace the large hectareage of Solstice and Gallant grown for this harvest in our area.


Maize herbicides have all been applied which now leaves an optional fungicide for eyespot control. Usually seen in continuous maize situations in the South West, eyespot only usually requires one spray in wet seasons, but if the weather stays dry we won’t need to spray at all. The cost will need to be weighed up against the damage which may be caused to the crop by going in with the sprayer again.


Pea and bean crops are looking extremely promising this year and could make decent profit margins. Most crops are even and weed-free following the residual herbicides applied in moist conditions in the spring, so desiccation will not be needed on most.


CAP reform is another hot topic and there is much clarification required by Defra and the European Commission and many questions which still need to be answered before any plans can be firmed up. However it is clear the three crop greening rule is very much a certainty for farms with more than 30ha of eligible land and there will be no options to opt out. The proposed Ecological Focus Area is not causing too much of an issue on farm as many of our growers are already in ELS/HLS schemes or grow peas or beans.


We are now looking at pre-emergence herbicide options for oilseed rape. Although they are a high initial cost, with reduced options for post emergence herbicides they provide good control for difficult weeds such as cleavers, poppies and black-grass. For wheat and barley crops we shall as always major on using flufenacet as a base for pre emergence sprays and stack other residual active ingredients to try and maintain a high weed kill and offer a good start to our crops.


I bid you happy harvesting.


  • Sarah Symes is an independent agronomist working with the Hampshire Arable Systems partnership. Based in Hampshire, she advises clients growing cereals, oilseed rape and pulses
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