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A big increase in spring cropping is on the cards with wet weather and sodden fields leaving many growers unable to get drilled up... Wet autumn paves way for surge in spring crops

A big increase in spring cropping is on the cards with wet weather and sodden fields leaving many growers unable to get drilled up last autumn.

Growers who haven’t already done so are being advised to make spring cropping decisions and secure seed sooner rather than later – or face the possibility of a late rush, suggests farm business consultant Will Foyle of agronomists Hutchinsons.

“For those already turning attention to spring cropping, cereal margins remain positive providing you can obtain seed – and meet specification in what will likely be an abundant market post-harvest.”

Rotational balance

Broadacre break crops are looking less favourable and will be better assessed in the spring on a case-by-case scenario, says Mr Foyle. A good 2023 maize harvest and potential oversupply of land for 2024 will put pressure on AD rents, he adds.

Mr Foyle emphasises the importance of keeping a rotational balance. “Late drilled spring barley on marginal land only pushes the prospect of a first wheat further down the road and will have a negative effect on the long-term profitability.

“Much can change between now and the end of January, and this equally offers time to take stock, review and make decisions in the New Year.”

While autumn seedbeds and winter wheat establishment were less favourable on many farms, profit potential remains on lower yields if fixed and variable costs are managed appropriately.

“Taking heed of this, many will be looking to push later drilled wheat varieties such as Skyfall well in to the new year,”says Mr Foyle.

“At current commodity prices a 7t/ha milling wheat will compete with a malting barley of similar yields.”

Ben Frost, of agronomy company Frontier, says re-drilling failed crops in during the winter months may be possible on some land types – but there are important considerations you should make around seed rates and variety choice.

Seed rates

When calculating seed rates, remember that establishment percentages could be as low as 50% in very poor conditions, says Mr Frost.

When drilling wheat, for example, rates should be increased to over 400 seeds/m² from November onwards.

Rolling a crop after drilling is unlikely to succeed during winter. But rolling in the spring is much more likely given favourable conditions.

Rolling should be done before Growth Stage 30 to aid root-to-soil contact and encourage further tillering without damaging the crop.

Of course, speed of growth doesn’t necessarily determine overall final yield. But it is something to be considered when planning first nitrogen applications.

Some varieties, like KWS Dawsum, have slow spring development but high yield potential when drilled late.