Agricultural Consultancy

Patrick Stephenson

In my part of the world, for the current year to date, the rainfall is a meagre 361 mm and with only two months to go it looks like one of the driest years on record. This brings me round to the traditional agronomist’s ceremony of ‘Casting of the Boot’. This age-old event is when the ground becomes too wet for boots and its wellies only. I have never known a year when we have got through to November without wellies being essential, until this year. Autumn has been unbelievably good, from harvest through to the completion of drilling. I appreciate that oil seed rape establishment was a battle for most growers in my area but that aside, the countryside is turning green remarkably evenly and fast.

Rape crops are now starting to grow rapidly, and the change to cooler temperatures has just come at the right time. Phoma lesions are very rare, and with the dry weather persisting the risk of spraying is quickly disappearing. Even the need to spray for light leaf spot in the autumn can be questioned, as many of the varieties sown have high resistance ratings. The lack of continuous wet leaves for the disease to spread has been noticeably absent. I appreciate that many manufacturers and distribution companies have data on the benefits of an autumn spray, but surely this year is different? The next action for my rape growers will be the application of Propyzamide. I know it is too warm now, but if we wait for soils to hit 8 degrees then you can bet that there will be a foot of snow on the ground. My target is the first week of November for neat propyzamide, and a bit earlier for Astrokerb.

Winter barley crops are tillering well and have unfortunately taken up quite a bit of Diflufenican. I know this will grow out, but it looks very dramatic at the moment. Unfortunately, this lovely weather has certainly favoured mildew in the barley crops. I try very hard to ignore this, by either choosing to walk quicker or look for aeroplanes. In most cases treatment is not required, but if the mildew is on the emerging leaves then a low rate of mildewicide will be applied. Top up sprays of flufenacet have been applied and as applicable manganese and an aphicide. Aphids can be found in early drilled cereal crops and riding ‘my sit up and beg bike’ at the weekend enabled me to confirm that there were plenty of aphids on the wing as I spent a large amount of time removing them from my eyes and mouth. In the North of England, the main vector for barley yellow dwarf virus is grain aphid. We only have the pyrethroid range of insecticides and unfortunately there will be some aphids with resistance. If you find that the insecticide of your choice has not worked, send a sample of live surviving ones to Rothamsted for testing. Walking fields and seeing the sheer number of spiders in the crop canopy, I feel that maybe they will be the best line of defence!

Wheat crops are emerging well and unfortunately so is the blackgrass. We have not got many disaster areas, but we do have a smattering in many fields. It is a sad fact that we win the odd battle with blackgrass, but lose the war. To keep ahead of the blackgrass problem requires a multitude of cultural, rotational and herbicide options. It is also important to remember that blackgrass does not have a calendar, so it will germinate in November and spring albeit in smaller numbers. A carpet of blackgrass now has only one answer and that is to destroy it, any other option is an exercise in burning money. Mildew is also present in wheat crops, but this will be left untreated and hope the weather does the cleaning up.

Winter oats are also emerging well and a pre-emergence flufenacet diflufenican combination or the using up of the remaining Lexus products will be their only autumn treatment.

Overall this has been a great autumn and there wasn’t a ‘Casting of the Boot’ ceremony before November!

There have been many hundreds of column inches devoted to the Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle menace. I would love to say that the loss of Neonicotinoid seed dressing was the main reason for this epidemic; however, I feel that Pyretheroid resistance may be a greater factor. The best answer to this problem appears to be rapidly germinating and growing crop which is not helped by an Indian summer. Overall the plantings of oil seed rape, by my clients, was reduced prior to the problems of flea beetle. This is primarily in response to unsatisfactory yields over recent years. We are hoping that lengthening the rotation and avoiding fields with inherent pest problems, will help us improve the crops performance. Crops that are at three true leaves are now romping on and fields with blackgrass present will receive a Centurian Max application before the middle of the month. On a brighter note, the dry weather has meant that I have not seen any Phoma and very few slugs.

I appreciate that delayed drilling is a must for helping in the control of blackgrass, which even we in the North acknowledge. However, agreeing with this and adhering to it, are two different conversations. Drilling started slowly, but with dry conditions and some rainfall it has now hit a tremendous pace and many growers will be finished this week. Where does that leave us with pre-emergence weed control? In short hoping for the best and expecting the worst. Soils are still very dry, and the success levels of pre-emergence weed control and the amount of rainfall in September and October are closely connected. Triallate granules are probably the best product in dry conditions but should still be combined with other products in a stack. My only issue with the granules is the smell, which is at best pungent! In recent seasons we have had our best levels of grass weed control in cereals, by following up the pre-emergence program with a very early post emergence treatment. This again will be the plan, but what and how much of a top up is applied will depend on the ever-elusive rainfall.

The loss of the Lexus stable does limit the choice of weed control in the autumn for oats. Again, we will be putting on some Flufenacet at the lowest rate we can to avoid any potential crop damage. Winter beans will be drilled in early October and if only we could work out how to make them pay we would grow more!

Fields for spring cropping on heavy land have received an initial cultivation, or a cheap and cheerful cover crop to try and ensure that the soils are loose for next year’s plantings. Although yields were disappointing for our spring crops this year, we are making positive strides with blackgrass control and the belief that the rotation is more resilient

One of the multiple joys that ageing brings is the inability to remember what you previously did! However I am struggling to remember a kinder late summer and autumn than this year. I appreciate the weather variation across the UK is enormous but on the whole I would take this weather every year. Each autumn brings its own challenges and with our penchant in the North for early drilling the battle with Blackgrass is ongoing. We already have casualties with crops being re-drilled or left for desiccation and spring cropping.

I have talked that for my clients the solution is largely rotational and we have to learn how we make this future proof by minimising risk. Whatever emerges after Brexit negotiations one thing that is in my opinion guaranteed, is lower agricultural support. In short we have until 2020 to put our house in order. On heavily infested Blackgrass land no soil disturbance in spring is critical and learning how to manage this on farm is one of the challenges we have to learn. Cheap cover crops can be part of this mix so learning which and what quantities is important. Over coming months we will keep you in the loop with what we are planning and how we get on.

Less oil seed rape has been planted and I anticipate that this will be some 12-15% down. The high start up costs and increasing failure rate are two of the main issues cited. Ironically as rape rotations become wider and less is grown the risk from pests and diseases will also reduce. Add to this that in the coming years we will have more contact post emergence options then I feel we will see rape acreages reach an equilibrium.

Strange Fact
Sulphonylureas are a mainstay of weed control programs in agriculture but they are also an important medical compound:-
Sulfonylureas (UK: sulphonylurea) are a class of organic compounds used in medicine and agriculture. They are antidiabetic drugs widely used in the management of diabetes mellitus type 2. They act by increasing insulin release from the beta cells in the pancreas.

Tall Stories!
One of the joys of families is that they generate countless memories. Our son Rob was no exception to this. Teaching him to drive was in short a real experience! Arriving into our yard at 30 mph on two wheels was exciting. Freewheeling backwards down the very steep Chimney Stack in Rosedale was another heart stopping moment. He did pass his test and the open road beckoned. In the space of 6 months Rob had thee accidents in the RAV 4 all with a Rob touch!
The first was when out soil sampling he reversed into a tree declaring he didn’t see the 30 foot aforementioned piece of wood.
The second he ran into the back of a car in Pickering Main Street announcing that a fly was bothering him and he was determined to squash it. He duly did this not noticing the car in front.
Finally while cleaning the car he managed to wrap the high pressure hose under the front bumper then reversed out of the car wash leaving the bumper behind.
Lovely memories

With the last dregs of harvest being completed, everyone is flat out drilling.

Seed-beds, up to now, have been excellent and part one of next year’s cropping is going well.

I have listened to and agreed with the blackgrass experts about the value of delayed drilling until mid-October. Unfortunately, this is seldom an option for the North.  We are far better altering rotations and ensuring that crops are drilled in good conditions and sprayed pre-emergence with a stacked herbicide mixture.

Flufenacet-based products will be the cornerstone of the programmes and, despite a straight formulation being available, co-formulations will be my preferred recommendation.

The first drilled wheat’s are now emerging and have had no slug problems so far. Very few pellets have been applied and with good seed-beds, I am hoping this remains the case.

The emerging crops will be closely monitored and top-ups of further herbicides will be applied as required.

The Rothamsted aphid monitor is already picking up high numbers of cereal aphids.

Crops drilled early with Deter (clothianidin) seed dressing should be covered for about six weeks from drilling, but those not dressed will need close monitoring and potentially an early spray.

Understanding which aphids are present will help guide product selection.

Gout fly is also an issue for these early-drilled crops. The eggs are 3-5mm long, cylindrical, cream coloured and lay on individual leaves. Pyretheroid sprays offer good control of the eggs if levels are deemed to be high.

It is sad to say but the march of cabbage stem flea beetles from the South is carrying on at a pace and we have more issues this year than last.

Crops drilled after winter barley in mid-August have shot out of the ground and are starting to look big. Unfortunately, those drilled later are battling with flea beetle and to a lesser extent slugs.

I have been travelling down to Cereals in Cambridgeshire for many years and I have watched the tide of blackgrass surge up the country.

I can now leave Pickering and see the weed all the way to the site. Add to this the bromes and poppies everywhere and there is not a lot to smile about.

With the exception of yellow rust, it has been a relatively low disease year. It has to be said though that yellow rust has been exciting and Niab’s Bill Clark has a twinkle in his eye when talking about teliospores and dynamic populations.

To cut a three-hour dialogue into concise words: “do not assume any variety will retain its rust resistance rating”. As for septoria ratings, these appears to be a more stable.

Winter beans look well, but chocolate spot is bubbling away and will need close monitoring. Oats similarly have enjoyed the year and look well.

It is hard to believe, but I still have oilseed rape crops flowering and with the swarms of diamond back moth in the air, vigilance is still required.

This season was late in starting and it is certainly going to be late finishing. This will have some significant effect on cropping and rotations.

What has been a remarkably warm spell will no doubt end in a shock! Crops on the whole look well and have emerged rapidly. I am convinced that this rapid emergence is our best weapon against pests. Recent heavy rain has put paid to some late drilling plans, but on the whole fields remain in good condition. There is little drain flow yet, but last weekend’s rain in the north will no doubt “flush” the system.

Oilseed rape crops are now being treated with propyzamide, combined with a pyrethroid and a fungicide. Talking to growers in the south, the cabbage stem flea beetle larvae damage last year was significant. Nobody yet has provided me with sufficient information to say that the resistance to pyretheroids in the adult is passed to the juvenile and is active from hatching. As a consequence I am persisting with an insecticide, in what is probably a vain attempt to protect the plants from the larvae.

Crops have certainly enjoyed the recent warm weather and look in perfect condition for winter. I have seen many triffid-like crops further south which in the past, from our experience, do not like a lot of snow. If the various “daily comics” are to be believed, then a severe winter is heading our way, which will be great for killing all the charlock and runch and a lot cheaper than bifenox.

Slugs, have at present, only caused limited damage in the wheat crop. The positive part of this is that treatments tend now to be confined to areas rather than fields. This will also coincide with a move to ferric phosphate to limit the risk to water catchments.

Pre-emergence herbicide programmes appear to be working well and where possible post-emergence flufenacet top ups are being applied. Unfortunately, I have already seen two fields where I fear the outcome is veering to glyphosate. Volunteer beans are growing very well through the pre-emergence armoury and will require some autumn treatment. On the whole wheat also looks well and is ready for winter.

Winter beans are emerging well in the warm weather and are providing a challenge, as not all pre-emergence products were applied. This is really the last chance saloon when you list the broad-leaved weed control products available for post-emergence application. Finally the barley and oat crops are also in good order, with the only cloud on the horizon being the potential for late aphid flights and possible barley yellow dwarf virus. I think the risk will be very low, but if the weather remains open I will start to get very twitchy about ignoring the threat. Bring on the cold weather!

Having recently attended a fertiliser convention in Spain I was pleased to learn that the world was awash with fertiliser. I was more than a little surprised when urea jumped up in price the following week. The main concern from most producers was logistics. With few farmers buying, stocks were piled up and as such I think we will see many efforts to spook the market into action.

Yes, there are still beans to cut! Not many though, and hopefully when you read this they will have gone. I am not sure that good bean yields make up for the anxiety experienced by all, waiting for the dying throws of harvest 2015.

Drilling on the whole has gone well and many farms are down to the last few hectares. Pre-emergence treatments appear to be working well at the moment, but fingers are crossed that this continues. I would have to say that the vapour from tri-allate applications is not my favourite perfume and would send a request to the manufacturers to add some Lily of the Valley please.

Where drilling has been delayed, for bad blackgrass infested fields, the resolve of the growers has been sorely tested. Refusing to answer my phone has added another day or two on, and continuing kind weather has helped immensely. My main concern for these fields is that there needs to be sufficient soil cover to ensure that the pre-emergence products don’t damage the wheat.

Slugs have now woken up and are vigorously consuming seed and leaves. Early drilled crops sown into moist firm seed-beds are up and away, with damage confined to small areas. Unfortunately, most crops are still emerging and ripe for damage. Reduced rate pellet applications have been subscribed along with continuing monitoring.

There is little doubt that flea beetle in oilseed rape crops has been more of a problem this year than last for my clients. The early drilled crops (mid August) had few problems and have romped away. The early September sowings have struggled as dry weather and cooler seed-beds have conspired to slow emergence and development. These crops have been very susceptible to attack. I think the only 100% successful method of control is a rapidly growing crop, which can be easier said than done.

We are all conscious of lower commodity prices and eager to ensure all our inputs are targeted to give the best return. Rape is in the spotlight for trimming input costs. The problem we have is that in eight months time I can tell you exactly what you should have done, but that is absolutely useless! The best we can do is assess risk and prescribe treatments tailored to that assessment. Small crops with visible phoma are high risk and should be treated accordingly. Conversely big crops with little visible phoma are low risk. Add into this mix the disease ratings and you have a priority list.

In the north, our main disease threat will be light leaf spot and, weather permitting; crops will receive an autumn spray before bonfire night. This also coincides with propyzamide timing or should I say that’s when it will be sprayed, sorry Dow your soil temperature data is helpful, but farm practicality also drives application timing!

Considering the late harvest and the area we had to drill, autumn has been kind up to now. Long may it continue.

How much wheat will we produce? 17m tonnes or more! Whatever the figure tops out at, it is a significant amount. If we are to come close to that figure, we have to start with good establishment, in good seed-beds. As it stands, the stop and go harvest has certainly done some damage to soil conditions, which could challenge establishment.

In addition, seed rates are always a bone of contention and you can easily produce a calculation that would make a mathematician swoon. Add to this RTK and variable seed rates and everything should be a fine science. Unfortunately, nature has a habit of upsetting this precision. I would always advise my growers to lean heavily on the side of caution and ensure enough seed is in the drill, assuming the worst case scenario.

As the variety results flow through, it is clear that most did very well and for many there will be little change in their drilling choices. First wheat drilling is well underway and is closely followed by pre-emergence sprays. Although blackgrass is a problem weed for us, it does not dominate our area and flufenacet programs are supplemented with additional chemistry depending on the challenge.

I feel I am the only man who has a pathological fear of red, particularly when it is displayed in arable fields via poppies. My pre-emergence and early post-emergence recommendations are liberally sprinkled with pendamethalin, which is driven by my diminishing faith in good poppy control given by spring herbicides.

Monitoring for slugs and assessing risk is an ongoing job and there is little doubt that moist, firm, fine seed-beds are the ideal starting point for minimising the risk. Where pellets are required maintain a minimum of 30 pellets/sq m .

Winter barley drilling is also underway and these crops will receive a similar pre-emergence program to the wheat. Overall, there will be a slight increase in the winter barley area, as good yields coupled with an early harvest have persuaded many growers to increase the area slightly. Despite good reliable performances over recent years from the hybrids, the high seed price and low feed barley prices will restrict their expansion.

Oilseed rape crops have established well in the unsettled weather over harvest and are only now being attacked badly by flea beetle. Most crops will have received one pyretheroid and many two. Pre-emergence sprays based around metazachlor have worked well, but we will decide on top-ups in the coming weeks. Volunteer cereals in rape crops never cease to amaze me, despite the huge yields we still have a carpet as thick as you like! If we could only harvest them all, 20t/ha must be possible.

In my area the final crops to harvest will be the beans. Although some crops which have been cut yielded very well (6t/ha), some look like harvest could be Christmas! Maybe we should have a competition for the oldest annual crop in the UK?

I can tell that the season is drawing to a close when my grumpiness quota reaches its peak! The arrival of unwelcome pests such as black bean aphid resets my blood pressure to a new high. Settled weather means that many crops will reach threshold and be sprayed. As crops finish flowering the number of outstanding ‘jobs to do’ list is rapidly diminishing.

This leaves the outstanding decision of timing oilseed rape desiccation. I must admit that I have a wry smile when I read the extended articles in the press on desiccation. I would love to see the aforementioned experts get pods from the main raceme in the field and not from the headland in my crops. The entire England rugby team pack would be felled within 10 metres by the biomass that is in front of them! In reality, using glyphosate rather than swathing or diquat is easy. I do appreciate that you can get it wrong, but a modicum of common sense should steer you through.

This year will be fascinating in confirming several hypotheses that we have adopted in recent years. Oilseed rape nitrogen totals, following comprehensive research, have been tailored more to biomass than a set given total. This year will be the first large scale adoption of this technique and, looking at what we have produced, I am hopeful that this mass experiment will confirm that this is the correct way forward.

Winter wheat is also interesting this year, as via various projects such as 2020 Wheat, and the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) are striving to maximise output. The scaffolding for these high yields is based on work done on the New Zealand world record crop grown by Mike Scolari. But the one factor that haunts me, is that the world record wheat crop was grown with 450 heads/sq m. I have always regarded this as low for UK conditions but this year, with the dry April, ear numbers are low and in many cases will be at, or close to 450. Will we achieve high yields this year with these low ear numbers? The weather will be the determining factor, but like all good historians (aka agronomists), I will have a reason for what has happened.

Now, we also have to take time out to review where we have gone wrong. Brome is a significant issue in winter barley for us in the north. Minimising future problems requires that we identify which brome species we are fighting against, and once this is done a plan can be made for which stale seed-bed technique is suitable.

Fields currently in wheat and scheduled for winter barley should be inspected closely. Many of these fields will have been treated with brome control products which may, on driving past, visually appear to have controlled the problem. Unfortunately, the reality is that many have just been ‘bonsaied’ and will produce viable seed below the canopy. Ignore this at your peril!

The battle with blackgrass is ongoing and now spans the whole breadth of my patch. Fortunately, the never ending press articles and occasional trips south have convinced my growers that the problem is serious. Delayed drilling, ploughing, stacking actives and rotational changes are all being planned. I appreciate that delayed drilling will be a huge issue for us and all suggestions of how to stop my growers charging out to drill in early September will be warmly received. Good harvest to all of you.

The arrival of ‘Cereals’ signals the light at the end of the tunnel in the combinable cropping year. Varieties will, as always, hold centre stage and with low commodity prices, and a keen eye on reducing growing costs, high disease-resistant varieties will be top of most people’s agenda. Remember, as you admire the array of breeder’s promises, that high disease resistance does not mean no fungicide treatments, but it does add spray flexibility and reduced risk.

Wheat crops have received the flag leaf sprays and discussion of T3 is now taking place. Why a discussion? The legacy of 2012 and the fusarium epidemic still etch scars deep in the memory. Unfortunately, the success of fungicides controlling fusarium owes more to luck of timing than operator skill. Prothioconazole has the best chance of success, but carries a hefty price tag. I feel prolonged septoria and rust control are as equally important, and this year could also see mildew appear on the ears of susceptible varieties like Leeds.

Having many clients that would be described as small to medium size arable farms, using T3 is often ‘empty the store time’ and the spray is a cocktail of what is left. Orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) provides another twist in the final decisions for the wheat crop. Traps have been set and daily inspections will take place, however, with the low temperatures persisting it could be a fruitless task. On a positive note, no self respecting grain aphid has yet ventured forth and hopefully this will be a no show.

Winter barleys are now flowering and look majestic and clean as a whistle. I would love to say this is due to either my brilliance or fantastic new chemistry, but unfortunately, the season as always has the last laugh! Spring barleys are now stem extending and flag leaf is just visible on the most advanced. An awn spray will be planned, but with rates and products trimmed to suit disease pressure. The recent wet weather has certainly helped spring barley and growth regulation will be required on some crops. Unfortunately, this lush growth can be very varied often within the same field, so not all crops will need treatment.

Oilseed rape is either finishing flowering, starting flowering or in mid-flower, depending on site location and pigeon history. One spray has been the limit for disease control post-flowering and fingers are crossed that this has been the right decision.

Spring beans are still displaying a white tinge to the leaves as the clomazone effects continue. Flowering is just starting in the spring beans, but with cold temperatures, no bruchid beetles have been seen. The forecast does hint at hot weather due this week, so vigilance will increase. Winter beans are in mid flower and fungicides are being applied with a second treatment scheduled in a month’s time depending on pressure.

Oat crops look well, with winter oats at ear emergence and spring oats stem extending. A final fungicide is being applied to the winter oats and the first to the spring oats. In non-blackgrass areas, oats provide a useful crop, being cost effective to grow and providing a break for wheat. The down side is they take up a lot of storage room and can be difficult to shift. You have been warned!

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