Agricultural Consultancy

Crop Watch

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!

Water will aid crop disease

Water will aid crop disease

At long last some rain has arrived and this will provide a suitable tonic for parched crops in the region. Disease has been noticeable by its absence in the wheat crops, which is great news for those of us trying to control the fungicide spend.

Unfortunately, the only missing ingredient for disease to develop is “just add water” and needless to say that has now arrived. It is no wonder all of us involved in agriculture are always wishing for the opposite of what we have: too dry, too wet, the wrong type of rain and so on. T1s are complete now and I can only imagine that the flag leaf will be 20 days away.

Having basked in some warm spring sunshine early in April, we were shocked back into reality, with biting cold winds and frosts as the cricket season started. The oilseed rape crops are struggling into flower and have looked miserable all spring. Low soil temperatures, night frosts and ever veracious pigeons have combined to delay flowering. Sclerotinia sprays are now being applied, and all being well this will be a one pass fungicide.

Pod midge and seed weevil have been variable in their appearance. Pod midge can be described as a “preserver of energy”, or to you and me, lazy. If you can’t find any on the headland, then you haven’t got any! Rape plantings will be under pressure this autumn with low returns, establishment issues and variable grassweed control. The options are not great for alternative crops, so there is unlikely to be drastic changes, but certainly fine tuning.

Winter barley crops look well, but small. Many growers think I have lost the plot when I leave a second growth regulator recommendation for crops that are only 20cm tall. The fathers are quick to point out “we need the straw you know!” Take my word for it, 200kg+ of N on Volume and Glacier will produce a mountain of straw and you will be pleased that you have topped up the growth regulator.

The final fungicide will be applied when the awns are well emerged. This will consist of an SDHI and azole mix. Abiotic spotting is common in crops and is a combination of factors, including drought stress. Not always easy to explain this to a grower who has just applied £25/ha of fungicide and sees all these black spots.

Spring barley crops have shown the most stress; with compacted areas, manganese and frost, combining with the dry conditions, to provide a tapestry of pale green coloured crops. Growth stages vary from freshly emerged to mid-tillering. As such, some are receiving herbicides and the most forward fungicides.

Spring beans have emerged well, but the dry conditions have not helped the weed control program. Bentazone has been applied in an attempt to control some of the emerging weeds. Weevils have been very active, but spray applications and recent frosts have helped reduce the pressure. Winter beans are just coming into flower and are currently free from significant levels of chocolate spot. My tip of the week would be, remember there will be more beans to market this year and to ensure you can sell them at the best price, monitor bruchid beetle.

Pigeons picking oilseed rape fields to decimate

Pigeons picking oilseed rape fields to decimate

The recent cold snap was not really the “beast from the east”, but at the very least a snap of winter. Prior to this spell of weather, disease levels were starting to build up and a re-run of 2014 was on the cards. Only time will tell if this weather intervention will have an impact on disease build up for the coming season.

Pigeons are proving to be the connoisseurs of oilseed rape, carefully selecting fields they wish to decimate, whilst leaving others alone. Light leaf spot now grabs most of the headlines and is causing near panic in academic circles, as numerous pathologists tell us of impending doom. Fortunately, snow, frost and pigeons mean that this is currently only an academic discussion.

Late February will start to see wheels turning and action might happen. Overall rape looks well, which is fortunate as the there is little enthusiasm to be garnered in the price. Can we save any money on inputs? I think nitrogen is one variable that might be tweaked down a little, and I doubt two sclerotinia sprays will be the order of the day.

Winter wheat on the whole looks very well, with septoria and mildew to die for! Grassweed control appears to be good (famous last words). The usual broad-leaved weeds have escaped the tsunami of autumn treatments, with cleavers and groundsel being the leading players. Early nitrogen will not be required for many crops and March will hopefully be the starting month for top dressing. With an increasing shift to varieties with weaker mildew resistance, I think this will be a year where the disease may sneak through a couple of fungicide programs. Nitrogen rates are likely to remain roughly the same as the break even ratio will still be in excess of 200kgs/ha for most crops.

Can we save any money on growing wheat? Unfortunately you have already picked your variety, and if the ratings for diseases are low then you have written your fungicide cheque last September. I am not of the school that believes two new SDHI products are a must. Thick crops and wet weather favour disease development, poor timing and inadequate chemistry create epidemics.

I appreciate the annual round of product shortages, due to myriad of excuses that a politician would be proud of, will be announced. This will spur on panic buying and the problem compounded; such is life. My suggestion would be to cover the flag leaf with the best and most flexible products by booking forward. As for the rest, ensure robust well timed applications that can be bought as required. Easy to write on a snowy day in February, I know.

Winter barley crops are now starting to sport their winter coats of bright yellow; which a combination of frost killing diseased leaves, manganese and lack of nitrogen combine together to produce this seasonal colour. Again, diseases were developing well prior to the cooler weather and will have at least stopped now. I think prothioconazole is a good base for barley fungicide programs. What you add to this is a bit of a floating feast and in short you pay your money and take your pick.

Beans are sitting pretty, having emerged on the whole, very well. Weed control remains a bit of a curate’s egg and there will be some head scratching over this issue later in spring.

crops with disease

Crops full of disease

It is fitting that with the last Crop Watch of 2014 we end the year as we started , crops full of disease and no end in sight for the potential spend! The farming community has sighed a collective gasp at the cost of growing crops last year and vowed to cut costs this year. Unfortunately, at the moment nature is doing its best to whip up another disease maelstrom.

Forward wheat crops are full of mildew, septoria and yellow rust. Many wheat varieties – such as JB Diego – have adult resistance to yellow rust, but are susceptible at the juvenile stage. I will be the first to say that this is an uncomfortable mix, as instinct urges you to spray. However spraying in the autumn has shown very little benefit in past trials and what we really need is a dose of winter, but not the American version!

Aphids can still be found in some crops and if this is the case spraying will still be required. Temperature is not the only trigger for winged aphid migration; day length is also a factor. Therefore, they should now have ceased migration and crops free of aphids will not require another spray. Good crop canopies are laying the foundations stones for high yield potentials and let’s hope 2015 has the remaining ingredients for good yields.

Winter barley crops are also full of mildew and autumn mildewicides may be justified in some crops. The advantages again are not cast in stone, but on light land there is some evidence of a yield advantage. Fortunately, as the years advance my eyes are less observant and I never see these crops! Overall weed control in the cereal crops looks good, but there is still plenty of time yet for problems to be brought to light.

Beans have emerged very rapidly, catching some of my clients off guard with no spray days in November and we are left with the challenge of tackling weeds post-emergence. This is very similar to solving the problem of limitless free energy!

Oilseed rape crops are now applying for the part of ‘the beanstalk’ in the local pantomime, as they continue to reach for the sky. Phoma can now be found relatively easily to the south of the country, and light leaf spot everywhere. I thought after the retirement of Pete Gladders, the story of doom and gloom caused by rampant rape diseases would not be trumpeted. Now I find myself preaching the same grim reapers story.

Given the correct weather, although highly unlikely this is, we could end up spraying rape every three weeks. Once again my slowly deteriorating body prevents me seeing the disease after the middle of November, so any further sprays will be delayed until spring. Grassweed control cannot be assessed yet, as the Kerb (propyzamide) has just been applied and you can’t see the ground for the huge canopy.

As we say goodbye to 2014, we can at least reflect on the fact that we can make fungicides pay under high disease pressure, but I will make a plea to the weather Gods not to test them to the same extreme this year!


We are still basking in what, at present has been a very kind autumn. Drilling is nearly complete with even the maize and potato land going in very well. Spraying has also been easy to complete, with no frost and tramlines carrying vehicles well.

I promise not to mention earliness of drilling, but the first wheat’s on blackgrass infested fields are receiving their contact sprays. To cheer those of you up in the south, we have sprayed our first areas off with glyphosate due to infestations of blackgrass! I had hoped our pre-emergence programs had done 80-90% of the job, unfortunately this looks more like 50-60%. We are once more reduced to a Blackadder scenario and another cunning plan involving Atlantis!

Fortunately blackgrass is not a major problem everywhere, so many fields will receive a cost effective mix of pendimethalin and diflufenican. Pendimethalin still provides a vital tool in the management of broad leaf weed control. In my opinion, on poppy infested land, it is the key foundation active to ensure good levels of control.

A routine aphicide will be applied to all the early drilled cereals. Those drilled later or not yet emerged will be assessed as the autumn unfolds. Manganese areas will also be tackled prior to winter.

Oilseed rape crops range from nice four leaf crops to triffid-like spider plants. Phoma remains noticeable by its absence and sprays will pimarily target light leaf spot in the north. Despite the threat of turnip yellows virus (TuYV) few crops have been sprayed specifically with an aphicide. In fact, I feel as though I have let the side down by not being able to report rampant flea beetle damage and plagues of slugs. In short, we were lucky, rapid germination and good growing conditions saw us through. I wait with bated breath for the Dow bulletin on soil temperatures and the optimum time for propyzamide application! In the meantime we will start applying it from next week.

Beans are now tucked away and pre-emergence sprays are being applied. Once again pendamethalin plays a key role in combination with an array of partners. Ensure that your product of choice does have beans on the label.

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