Farmer Focus – Andy Howard

From Drought to Deluge

I am sitting here today (May 24th) listening to Thunderstorms outside. In the last 6 days we have had around 50ml of rain which has been very appreciated. This time last week it was 26 degrees, and the crops were wilting and looking very drought stressed, amazing the difference a week makes. It can stop raining now though!!

Last week I started “Operation Zero Tolerance” for Blackgrass. Apart from a couple of fields our BG levels are fairly low, but for the levels to remain low, I believe the only way forward for us is to not let any plants go to seed. It is a lot of arduous work, which I do not really enjoy but it has been very satisfying to see certain fields that were once a bit of an issue in the past, now have such low levels. There are a couple of benefits spending lots of time out in the fields. Firstly, it gives you time to think and reflect on what you have got right and wrong this year and then secondly, is that you get a chance to really inspect the wheat crops and notice things you would not from the sprayer. One thing that has been noticeable is that our wheat variety blend has coped better the with the drought than the straight Crusoe (see picture). For this reason and the fact that Crusoe is so prone to Brown rust, it has made me think we should be using a variety blend instead of straight Crusoe going forward, let us see what the combine says first.

Talking of Brown Rust brings me onto another subject. At the beginning of the season, I was hoping that we could go all year without using fungicides, unfortunately I have not managed that feat. A couple of fields of Crusoe had brown rust fairly early, which we have had to treat. There is always a reason a plant gets disease and after a sap analysis we discovered that these fields had a shortage of Magnesium and Phosphate which allowed the rust to develop. I probably have not been tissue testing regularly enough this year and did not pick this deficiency up early enough, lesson learnt for next year.

This year we have been using Silica as a foliar nutrient and again we have learned lessons for next season. I was hoping Silica would help us avoid the use fungicides but so far this has not been the case. I have seen silica suppress disease but not to cure it. It seems that once the disease is established in the crop, you must use fungicides. The silica is useful to keep disease out. Where we went wrong was not putting any silica down next to the seed with the drill last Autumn. Also, this spring, we started with the foliar Silica rates too low. Another point, if the rest of the plant nutrition is not balanced, you cannot expect the silica nutrition alone to keep disease out.

This spring I have been experimenting with low Nitrogen rates on wheat. One field has only had 70kg/ha/N of solid N and will end up with two foliar N sprays, so far you cannot tell the difference compared to the rest of our wheat and I am hoping the combine cannot tell the difference either, then I will not need to buy another load of overpriced fertiliser. The spring crops have established well into what was mostly dust at the time. The Bean/OSR intercrop is coming together (see picture). I have failed several times with Spring OSR, but we changed the agronomy this year and it seems to have established better. The linseed with its’ Oat companion is looking great. Finally, our lentil/camelina intercrop is just visible in the rows (see picture). I have never grown Camelina so this could be interesting!!

Hopefully, since this rain we can look forward to this harvest after a couple of difficult years. Long way to go yet though!