Agricultural Consultancy

Crop Watch

First off I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year and all the very best for 2020.  To date the year has started on a much more positive note than its predecessor.  The more settled weather has improved soil conditions no end, and in some cases has even prompted some drills to awaken from their post new years snooze and re enter the winter sowing campaign.  Like kids in a sweet shop some of my growers are getting rather excited at the prospect of sowing some more winter wheat, especially with the northward trend in price.  I however, would still proceed with caution, if the seedbeds are kind then the chequered flag can be raised, but if conditions are sticky, cloddy and sad then I’m afraid id wait on the grid just that bit longer.

Recent visits around my clients are providing me with the same knowledge gained pre-Christmas, those sown early look impressive and have tillered well, while the variation on later sown crops is huge.  The recent frosts have slowed down slug activity however it is the predator from above which is now a cause for concern.  Like a prop 10 minutes after kick-off, the later sown crops are slow off the mark and are being bombarded with rooks.  The abundance of different bird deterrents always amazes me when walking, I have even seen an old AOL ‘Free internet trial’ CD hanging from the ever-trusty bailer twine.  I am by no means old, but I remember these coming with the Daily Mail 20 years ago, they made trusty coasters in our kitchen.

Over the last couple of days a few sprayers braved the elements and some residual herbicides have been able to be applied without making a mess.  I have prioritised what needs doing with cereals on client’s farms, providing ground conditions allow.  Top of the job sheet are any barleys that were left out pre-Christmas as once we get going, we have no other method of grassweed control in this crop.  Next on the cereal sheet are those late sown wheats where growth stage is around 1-2 leaves and weed germination is virtually nil.  This allows us to get that build up of residual activity before weeds have emerged.  Most of the light land cereals got sprayed in the autumn and early weed control looks good, however any of the outcasts that were left out I will leave until spring as these will benefit more from a sulfonylurea than a residual.

The majority of kerb applications have now been made where needed to OSR crops and size of crop canopy has determined whether or not a fungicide has been added to the tank.  Those thicker crops where phoma can be spotted will have received a low dose of prothioconazole while thinner backwards crops will have to wait until early spring when they actually have some leaf material.  I wouldn’t be too hasty in ripping out backwards OSR crops just yet, unless there is zero potential.  Oilseed rape has a great ability to excuse the pun, ‘Spring’ to life in March and as with wheat the end market price is only heading in the right direction.

In my last article I wrote about how soils conditions were about near perfect, temperatures were Mediterranean and spirits were generally high following a bumper harvest….oh how things can change in a matter of weeks! Since the start of October in Ryedale we have received a whopping 192mm of rain and we aren’t even halfway through yet!  Field conditions now range from sticky to heavy to submerged.  The majority resembling the alickadoos down the local rugby club at 7pm……at full saturation!   Many of the struggling OSR crops welcomed the drink and in the majority of cases have jumped on to what at the moment looks like a viable crop.  The reason I say ‘at the moment’ is because I nervously await what Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle larvae populations will grace us in the spring.

A brief count today shows that on my clients farms I have around 40% of the total expected winter cropping in the ground with around half of that been sprayed with pre-emergence herbicides.  Compare this to last year where 90% was tucked up and sprayed.  Its savouring to see that many have learned from previous monsoon seasons and have resisted mauling crops into Somme like conditions.  The ever-reliable combination drills are being dragged out of retirement, however even those are being held on a short leash until conditions improve.  As we have now passed mid-October, I have all but banned my growers from drilling 2 row winter barley and now advising them down the spring barley route as this often out performs its late sown winter counterpart.  Only with hybrid barleys do I feel drilling can continue until the end of the month, but an increased seed rate will be required and, with the premium price tag on the seed, this can bring a tear to the eye.

Some growers are already rejigging cropping plans with the thoughts of leaving those historically heavy wet fields until the spring.  Fortunately, as I’m ever the optimist and a glass half full kind of guy, this type of land is usually the host to blackgrass.  Therefore, allowing growers the chance to do some weed management and providing their hover sprayers arrive in time we may get the opportunity to continue our battle with blackgrass.  It’s not quite time however to start waving the white flag on winter crops just yet.  There have been many good performing wheat crops sown into late December. With around 8 weeks until we sit down to our Turkey dinner and nurse monopoly related injuries, I am hopeful most of the planned winter wheat acreage will get sown.  Trials have shown that the yield penalty from October to December sowing is about 1.5 t/ha however compared to the affect’s disease, weed and climatic variances can have this 1.5 tonne is worth the perseverance to drill late.  With spring barley, the most likely go to crop for the undrilled areas I feel strongly that getting as much wheat drilled as possible is the right course of action.

The wet weather not only causes problems with drilling but also spray plans.  Plan ‘A’ I don’t even remember, and with plan ‘B’ a distant memory I’m now not completely sure what letter I’m up to.  Flufenacet and pendimethalin mixtures I feel will not be strong enough to tackle the pesky weed after emergence, as a result I’m steering towards a flufenacet/pendimethalin + contact mix…. yet again conditions allowing.  With winter barleys I will stick with the flufenacet/pendimethalin and diflufenican option.  Again, ever the optimist, with the post emergence sprays it means that if thresholds are met then an aphicide for BYDV can be added in and any thick populations of volunteer OSR or peas can be tidied up with some bromoxynil in the same pass – every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s a sobering thought to realise that by the time you read this and if Boris has stuck to his guns, we will be out of the European Union and will know what sort of deal if any we have been lured into.  Will the pound really be worth the same as a Freddo?, who knows but this statement expressed by Minette Batters at this year’s AICC conference is fantastic ‘Once we get over this minor speed bump and we agree to work hard together we have the chance to shape what type of future we as an industry want to be part of’, I couldn’t agree more.

September was always known as the month for harvest festivals, symbolising the end of 12 months hard work with all the produce safely gathered in store.  For many this is now the case, however driving around the odd darkened field of wheat is still holding on awaiting its birthday.  We all know that I don’t need to go into detail on this year’s weather during harvest so here is a quick recap.  In Yorkshire we started off with summer in late June, closely followed by autumn in July, winter in August and a quite usual wet, dry, wet, dry September (I write this half way through the month so things could yet change again.22 degrees Celsius predicted at the weekend!).

The main topic on farm now is of course oilseed rape.  All discussions start with ‘Shall we grow the crop?’, closely followed by ‘When should we sow the crop?’ then finally ‘How shall we establish the crop?’.  Several of my clients this year have had enough of the frustrations in growing the crop. They were battle hardened to pigeons and slugs, but the headaches experienced from flea beetle and pollen beetle onslaughts were the deciding factor.  However, the high prices and better than expected yields this year have lured many back into growing the crop. Establishment methods are tailored to reflect the common opinion of …’what’s the cheapest and quickest way of establishing my crop?’ and ‘how high a seed rate can I go? ensuring I have enough plants to feed the flea beetle yet still leaving me enough for a crop’  Many have opted to go down the conventional variety route and increase seed rates by up to 50% while others have stuck to hybrid varieties hoping that their trademark vigour will help them get away early.  Due to the late/wet harvest drilling dates have been varied.  There was a familiar pattern that if it’s not a combining day we will sow some rape.  Crops sown after winter barley in early August are now approaching the 4-5 true leaf stage and are safely past the flea beetle grazing risk. Unfortunately, larvae feeding damage is another hurdle to overcome but with the much heralded ‘worst winter for 30 years’ looming lets hope that larvae will not be an issue. Crops drilled in mid-August appear to be the most vulnerable to adult flea beetle grazing and there has been many acres of print on Flea beetle resistance to pyrethroids. So, what do you advice your clients? An early dose of nitrogen and phosphate (if placement fertiliser not used) is key to help try and get these crops up and away from the pesky flea beetle. It’s a brave agronomist and farmer to do nothing from an insecticide application but in many cases, this is probably the correct course of action. Early established rape crops bring their own however those early-emerging crops are likely to attract summer populations of aphids and early infections of Turnip Yellows Virus can have significant yield effects so early aphid monitoring is key.  Pest threats are also having a knock-on effect in the choice of herbicide selection, pre-emergence programmes are less commonly used mainly due to the fact we want to see a crop before we invest further.  An early post emergence herbicide mix is now the favoured approach using metazachlor, dimethenamid and quinmerac combinations. Volunteer cereals and early blackgrass control also loom large and choosing when to time the Centurion Max for optimum effect is always a challenge.

I have listened to many of the sage like gurus of the agricultural industry advising us all to delay drilling the longer the better. This will reduce blackgrass population lessen the risk of BYDV and reduce early disease pressure next spring. Unfortunately this is not an option for many in the north and delaying means not drilling before Mid-September! The answer to the issue of blackgrass for us must be spring cropping and rotational change. Many have now started to work fields in preparation for the coming cereal sowing campaign.  Soil conditions at present are extremely good, there is plenty of moisture there for seeds to strike yet not too much to cause a mess.  I have my own test on determining soil conditions…..if I can play rugby with 21mm studs in without getting a blister or having to wash my boots at the end of the game then conditions are perfect!


Well it’s been a couple of months now since my last article and for that I must apologise, where has the time gone?! In usual fashion I feel the need to start by mentioning the weather.  We started off with summer in February, a brief spell of spring in May, back to summer in late June, closely followed by autumn in July and winter in August.  I say winter as at the time of writing it is currently 8 degrees Celsius with rain outside the office window, I must remind myself it is the first week of August.

I would like to thank all those that came and enjoyed a beer and a bun with me on the Arable Advisor stand at the Ryedale Show.  Despite the early efforts of the weather to spoil the day, the sun finally shone and from what I could see it looked like one of the busiest shows to date.  This is great for the countryside and promoting everything rural.

Harvest is well underway in the Ryedale district albeit at a snail pace.  There are many descriptions for the type of harvest we are having so far, however the best was from one of my clients.  He described it as a ‘Bachelors Harvest’, with a puzzled look on my face I asked, “how do you mean?”, he responded with a slight chuckle “well, you get it when you can!”.  Despite the catchy weather conditions, spirits on farms are still high!

To date most of the oilseed rape and winter barley has now been gathered up and many have made a start in winter wheat.  Oilseed rape yields have been varied, those that survived the onslaught from flea beetle and pollen beetle seemed to have yielded well with an average of around 4.2t/ha while those that didn’t aren’t worth mentioning.  Winter barleys again have performed well with many conventional 2 row varieties filling the trailers as well as the hybrids and yields of 10t/ha have been frequent on farm results…. not just pub talk!  Straw has also been plentiful, that is if you have managed to get it picked up.  Big swaths take longer to dry, and on many occasions as soon as I left the field with the haybob the bright blue skies closed, and deluges of rain gave a helping hand in making sure every stick of straw was wet.  There is a similar pattern forming here with the wheats as well, many are reporting extremely good yields some of the highest I have herd of for many years 12-13t/ha is a frequent result. These are particularly impressive considering there are a many crops dotted around the countryside that suffered from the heavy rain and typhoons throughout July and in places have gone flat, this wont be too much of a worry as we know Yorkshire has the country’s best combine drivers.  Current wheat prices have dropped however the higher than average yields should help compensate a little for this.

Even though the rain has slowed harvest it has encouraged many into thinking of sowing oilseed rape. Last year’s experiences suggested early sowing was the best option and some growers are opting for the first half of August. I must stress though that sowing date effects vary from year to year and we don’t want to claim any magic remedy anyway! If you plan is to sow early check the emerging crop for aphids as well as flea beetle. Early-emerging crops are likely to attract summer populations of aphids and early infections of Turnip Yellows Virus can have significant yield effects. Whenever the crop is sown, early nitrogen and phosphate is essential in the flea beetle campaign to get the crop growing as soon as possible.  This should be available as soon as the crop emerges at the latest – the earlier the better.  Pest threats are also having a knock on effect in the choice of herbicide control, pre-emergence programmes are less commonly used mainly due to the fact we want to see a crop before we spend the money but also certain herbicides can slow down crop emergence which is not ideal when trying to overcome flea beetle.  An early post emergence herbicide mix is now the favoured approach.

The farming industry cares greatly for the environment and I came across an interesting fact the other day so here it is, ‘If you put all the UK’s hedges together, they would circle the earth 20 times’.  With many growers voluntarily entering into agricultural environment schemes this will continue to grow.

As usual we are always looking expand our business so please get in touch if you think we can help your business in any way.

Ben Boothman

tel – 07794 149249

First off let me start by wishing you all a happy new year from all of us at Arable Advisor. Its been a couple of months since our last column, however over the winter months an agronomist’s diary tends to contain less farm visits and instead replaced with training courses, technical updates and if you’re lucky some annual leave. This is a good time for agronomists to slip away for a week or two (or couple of months!) to help recharge the batteries before this busy season starts off again, which with the extremely mild and relatively dry winter we have experienced here in North Yorkshire, could be sooner than thought!

Field conditions are excellent for January which has triggered some eager farmers to dig out the spreader and start applying P&K compounds. With very few frosts some sprayers have even emerged from their winter hibernation, anti-freeze flushed through and manganese applications made to those crops showing early deficiency signs.

The kind conditions have allowed ploughs to re-enter fields and in many cases spring drilling has commenced. Even though there are more off-label approvals for herbicides to help tackle the infamous blackgrass in spring barley I would still delay rushing into these fields. Please be aware and check labels of flufenacet based products when choosing what product to apply to these early sown crops. Theoretically spring barley drilled in January is classed as winter barley and label restrictions for winter barley must be followed.

Such an early start always makes me nervous, are we jumping the gun? Will there be something to come back and bite us? Well as I write this the outside temperature is sitting around freezing and recent weather forecasts are threatening reports of snow…..Beast From The East 3, or 4, or 5 I’m not entirely sure what number we got to last year.

Last week was our annual AICC conference where we have several days of technical briefings, product updates and trials results. As you will all have guessed one major topic was BREXIT and what will happen to the agricultural industry as of 11pm on the 29th March 2019. Rather than the usual doom and gloom and the usual brainwashing that we won’t be able to export or import anything, supermarket shelves will be empty, food prices will rocket, and the Great British Pound will be worth the same as a Freddo! There was a positive atmosphere. We were fortunate enough to have the president of the NFU Minette Batters as one of our guest speakers who summed up how many in the audience were thinking when she stated ‘Once we get over this minor speed bump and we agree to work hard together we have the chance to shape what type of future we as an industry want to be part of’. It is inevitable that agriculture will receive a reduction in support payments and the way in which farmers will receive them will be more environmentally driven rather than aimed at food production. I must praise many of my growers who are already voluntarily entering into many environmental schemes and increasing cover crop acreage, this not only helps improve soil health and fertility but also provides over winter food sources for a vast majority of our countryside’s wildlife.

This moths fun fact – ‘Sheep can recognise up to 20 different human faces, and they prefer a smiling face to an unhappy one!’

Smiling Sheep Fun Fact

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.

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