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Nearing the end of a long drive back to Suffolk from the North West recently, my spirits were lifted by the sight of a sprayer and drill working in fields adjacent to the road.
Now this was approaching Newmarket, so it was on lighter land, but it just made me feel spring was round the corner. Admittedly, there have been a few other signs too – longer days, snowdrops – but for me seeing spring fieldwork get underway signals the season is changing.
It led me to muse on what sort of year we might have ahead. It’s been a relatively mild winter and crops in the main appear to have come through well so far, although as ever there have been oilseed rape failures and may yet be more as pigeons continue their assaults. But we can perhaps be hopeful we have some good foundations in place.
Without doubt there will be technical challenges in the coming season, that is the nature of arable farming; what is increasingly less certain is that we will have solutions to them.
The arrival of new fungicide options will add some tools to the disease control armoury, but their introduction coincides with growing concern about resistance and loss of efficacy. Much of the talk at conferences and technical meetings this winter has been about reduced sensitivity to SDHIs in septoria populations and, as we were putting the final touches to this issue, the news came that the presence of less sensitive barley net blotch isolates had also been confirmed in-field in the UK.
A massive question mark too hangs over our weed control strategies going forward, as we await a decision on glyphosate’s continuing approval, due towards the end of the year. If glyphosate is an important component of your weed control programme, now is the time to make your voice heard.
The uplift in grain prices is welcome but is tempered by rising input prices. Against a background of political and economic uncertainty the pressure is on to keep costs under close control. Spending less is one route, growing more another. Which is best will, at the end of the day, depend on the individual farm situation, but for some it may be time for a new approach.
There is a view that original thinking and innovation emerge from challenge. Perhaps 2017 will be a year of new ideas.