1. Seedbeds, seed rate, and seed treatments
Soil type and cultivations have a strong effect on establishment. On nice light, sandy, loamy soil, you can achieve 90% establishment. But on heavier clays, it will fall away, be prepared to increase seed rates based on local conditions.
As well as soil type, consider the weather, drilling date, sowing depth and disease risk – and whether you are using a seed treatment or cleaned-only seed. All those factors might seem basic but they still have a key role to play.
Winter wheat crops should be established from mid-September. Tailor seed rate to drilling date. Drilling before 10 September, you should look at 175-250 seeds/m². That should increase to 350-400 seeds towards mid-October and potentially higher still afterwards.
There is growing interest in cleaned-only seed – but don’t forget the value of a single purpose seed dressing. It has an agronomic benefit and almost forgotten issues – including seedling blights,loose smut and bunt – can rear their head again without one.
Added value seed treatments also have a key role to play and in trials have been shown to help promote rooting and shoot growth as well as overall plant establishment. – especially when drilling later into more marginal seedbeds.
2. Grass weeds
Pressure from blackgrass hasn’t gone away, despite more focus on ryegrass and brome in some areas. Employ stale seedbeds wherever possible and moving as little soil as possible at drilling.
Ryegrass is becoming a far bigger challenge. In places like Essex and Yorkshire there is significant resistance to flufenacet which is a concern. Spring cropping doesn’t work as well against ryegrass as it does against blackgrass.
Ryegrass has a low innate dormancy so in theory a high percentage of seed should germinate in October and November. The reality is, it doesn’t. It germinates all year. And it is difficult to control in a spring crop so drill as late as you can and adopt a robust residual herbicide strategy built around flufenacet and prosulfocarb. .
Brome is also seeing a resurgence, especially where there is a min-till approach. The plough is probably the most effective effective tool, but that’s obviously not going to sit well with all growers taking a conservation agriculture approach.
So again, you have to think about how to manage it to best effect. Understand the species. Is it sterile brome, great brome or a soft brome. Because all that will impact your post-harvest cultivation strategy.
There is a whole raft of technology out there but you need to get the basics right. Our approach is: if you don’t know what’s in it or how it works, don’t use it. You need to know what’s it trying to achieve.
A lot of these products are about genetic triggers – trying to make the plant do something. So if you don’t understand what it is doing, then you might be using it at the completely the wrong time.
We’ve also been looking for key modes of action to use throughout the programme – from establishment to stem extension. Phosphite, for example, can give you a strong foundation by increasing root biomass and shoot numbers.
One of the best vehicles for delivering phosphite in the early stage of plant life is via the seed as a seed treatmemt. But you can also use it as a foliar applications during autumn and early spring.
Remember micronutrition too – not just phosphate and potash. Manganese, copper and zinc are also important. Consider the type of formulation the products you are applying and how effective they are at actually getting to the plant and correcting deficiencies. We are now using products that contain R-100, a dual action biostimulant.
It encourages increased cell division and growth – and helps the crop utilise everything you’re applying as opposed to leaving a lot of it sitting on the leaf surface not doing anything.
Autumn slug numbers and populations are set in April and May. This April was warm and very dry – but May was warm and wet. So the slug pressure is clearly there although only time will tell whether we are looking at a 2012-type year.
Oilseed rape can probably tolerate one pest pressure at a time. It can be game over for a rape crop where the cotyledons are hammered by slugs on top of flea beetle so you need to be vigilant.
In terms of control, obviously we’re moving away from metaldehyde. It is still legal to use until March 2022 but it can no longer be sold by suppliers or distributors. That said, we’ve had a long time to transition into ferric phosphate.
Some people are sceptical about ferric phosphate but it works. It has a different mode of action and there no issues. It comes down to product choice – some labels allow pre-drilling use, subject to trapping and thresholds but most are from the point of drilling.
After that, it comes down to ballistics and how far you want to throw the pellets or the number of baiting points. Slugs are indiscriminate feeders and you want them to encounter a pellet before they encounter a plantt. So the more baiting points the better.
Above all though, remember to use pellets according to the principles of integrated crop management. That means cultivation has a key role, as does consolidation – and take care if direct drilling when wet because open slots are like motorways for slugs.
5. Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus
BYDV-infected cereals produce lower yields and reduced quality. The disease affects all cereals and grasses. Barley and oats are usually more severely affected than wheat. The earlier infection occurs, the greater the effect.
In winter barley, severe infection can reduce yield by 70-80% and in winter wheat by 25-30%. Variety choice can reduce the risk of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV).
With varieties such as KWS Amistar and RGT Wolverine now available, offering BYDV tolerance / resistance, we now have another tool in the IMP armoury. It has big benefits especially in challenging autumns when it is difficult to travel to protect crops.
We are also finding that more people are “drilling on the green” – adopting a more conservation-based agriculture approach. Ask yourself whether that increases the green bridge risk – and consider the varieties you are growing.
You should also consider herbicide performance in that scenario. The value of a residual herbicides is still absolutely fundamental. Most Atlantis type products now give limited performance at best so you really are reliant on the residuals.
Active choice comes down to what pressure and how much you need to load on. But you need to think about getting the best out of them – use a decent seedbed, consolidate and try and get them on properly pre-emergence.