Thursday, December 14, 2017

Cereal crops and rape overcome catchy harvest

December 1, 2017 by  
Filed under Crops

Combinable crop yields proved to be better than expected for many growers this year – following a dry and mild season that was something of a stark contrast to the wet weather and high disease pressure that characterised 2015/16.

Met Office data shows UK winter rainfall totalled just 76% of the 1981-2010 average at 252 mm, while overall spring rainfall was 17% down, with some sites recording just 5mm in the whole of April. Average temperatures and sunlight hours were higher in most areas.

“Crops able to access sufficient moisture fared well in generally low disease pressure, with growth typically a week or so ahead of normal during much of the season,” says Hutchinsons trials manager Bob Bulmer.

Overall, Hutchinsons regional trials centres recorded better yields and quality compared with 2016, albeit shy of “vintage” harvests such as 2015. However, those in drier regions or on light land often struggled, with poor tillering and early senescence being common problems.

Oilseed rape

Dr Bulmer acknowledges that it has been a very variable year for oilseed rape – although overall yields are up with several reports of crops achieving over 5t/ha.

“Many crops struggled to establish in dry conditions last autumn, but where establishment was successful OSR came through the mild winter well and thrived in the bright conditions of May and June.

“OSR leaves are more photosynthetically active than the stems or pods, so retaining green leaf area and maximising light penetration through the canopy is key to building yield and oil content. It is also likely that the difficult establishment necessitated stronger crop rooting from an early stage, making crops more resilient as the season progressed.

“There has been a strong response from fungicide applications too, with the average yield benefit of 1.2t/ha across all sites far exceeding the more normal 0.5t/ha uplift. Although phoma incidence was higher than recent years, a big factor was the inclusion of products with growth regulatory activity, which reduced lodging later in the summer.”

Winter barley

Trials data for barley suggests improved yields and quality, due to mild conditions and relatively low disease pressure, apart from some brown rust and mildew, says Dr Bulmer.

“There was a sting in the tail from late ramularia in winter barley, a problem that is increasingly common and harder to control due to issues with fungicide resistance. Incorporating chlorothalonil into programmes will be a key part of tackling the threat next spring.

“Lodging was more sporadic in barley than wheat, largely due to the crop’s advanced maturity making it less top heavy when downpours came. Brackling was more of an issue in many areas.”

Wheat

Findings from the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) suggest dry winters can be better for wheat yields than wet conditions, however the prolonged dry spell through the key growth stage 31 to 39 period reduced 2017 potential.”

Dr Bulmer points out that pressure from wet weather diseases was lower, especially septoria, however there was still a strong response from fungicides over untreated plots, with an average benefit of 2.41t/ha across nine English sites, only slightly less than the 2.77t/ha seen in 2016.

“Early yellow rust was present but never seriously took hold, while brown rust and mildew affected some crops, as did late septoria when the weather broke,” says Dr Bulmer.

“The results reinforce the importance of protectant fungicides and varietal resistance to any risk management strategy, even in seasons that appear low-risk. The lack of curative disease control from many products further increases the value of a robust fungicide strategy from the outset.

“We have also seen notable benefits from growth regulators this year, especially in regions that experienced heavy downpours when crops were at full biomass in June.

“Dry spring weather resulted in a lot of nitrogen remaining in soil and not taken up by plants until there was sufficient rainfall and soil moisture. This sudden availability caused a rapid pulse of soft growth which increased lodging susceptibility.”

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