Tillage: Striking a balance between crop needs and potential returns
There is always one day at this time of year when a winter crop moves from winter slumber to vibrant spring growth, literally overnight.
Pass a field one day and it's a sickly mix of yellows, browns and pastel mint; the next day it's a vibrant green bursting at the seams absorbing the spring sunshine. That day was last week in a particular field of winter barley I passed two days in succession. So spring has sprung and for the next few weeks it will be a succession of spreading, spraying and monitoring growth to look after their every need to ease a crop towards harvest.
With the current depressed trade for grain, more than ever it will be a compromise between what the crop needs, or is perceived to need, and the economic return of every expense.
The land costs, the machinery costs, the fertiliser costs are more or less fixed at this point, most of the pesticide inputs are also essential. However there are opportunities to minimise expense, every box of spray that can be left on the shelf is one less cost that will have to be covered by grain in a few months' time.
Areas that can be looked at include growth regulation, especially in wheat. The ability of a crop to stand until harvest is predominantly a result of successful crop breeding and trialling in our temperate climate, and also nitrogen rate and timing.
Growth regulation is well back in fourth place as a mechanism for keeping a crop standing. While still necessary, a single well timed application of cycocel will be just as effective as the most complex regulation 'programme' that seems to be gaining favour in places.
Other areas of cost that needs to be examined is that of micro nutrient application. It is well established that a crop that is suffering from nutrient deficiency will generally respond to an application of that nutrient. For example, if a particular crop has a manganese deficiency, applying manganese early in the season will result in increased yields.
However, it is just as true that if a crop is not suffering from a manganese deficiency, no amount of additional manganese will result in any increase in yield. All too often prophylactic applications of micronutrients is just money wasted.