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How to make the most of your soil and crops

The past couple of weeks have given a great lift to the spirit with glorious weather and great progress in the spring work. The quality of tillage work is everywhere to be seen with great seedbed preparation and emerging crops a testament to the excellent ability of tillage farmers.

I have been travelling around the countryside in recent weeks monitoring the winter crops progress and have noted the increase in ploughed lea fields. Establishing crops on grass fields can sometimes be tricky, mainly due to the loose nature of the ploughed sod.

I always find it useful to roll the ploughing to firm it and facilitate the quick breakdown of the sod. The firmed ploughing helps to regulate sowing depth and followed by a further rolling after sowing insures a good seed to soil contact and even germination and emergence.

The breakdown of the sod can impact on the emerging crop in a number of ways. Nitrogen is used by the organisms breaking down the sod and is temporarily unavailable to the crop. It is vital that seedbed nitrogen is applied in sufficient quantities to allow for this potential initial lock up. The once-traditional practice of placed fertiliser in combine drills for spring cereals is hard to beat.

The impact of decaying sod on soil pH is also a consideration, so be prepared to apply the granulated lime products at the first sign of low pH symptoms in patches of spindly plants, particularly in spring barley. Finally watch for leatherjacket activity where plants are cut off just below ground level and yellow leaves are spotted lying on the ground.

I observed that the removal of hedgerows was regularly a feature of fields ploughed out of grass. Hedges are a landscape feature and are protected under the requirements of Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) and should not be removed. SFP penalties will be imposed on inspection.

Winter crop progress is good with winter wheat generally at growth stage 30-31 and winter barley at 31-32+ across the crops checked last week. Surviving oat crops vary from 25-31 with a percentage of plants hanging on by the root tips.

The dry weather has reduced the spread of septoria on the wheat, but active lesions are still evident on the lower leaves. Rhynchosporium on the barley is also very evident, with the potential for rapid infection with good temperatures as plant stands and leaf canopies are very dense.

The growth regulator and 'clean-up' herbicide applications are progressing on the wheats, with cleavers, wild oat and sterile brome the main targets.

It is interesting to see emerging weeds such as fat hen, redshank, bindweed and volunteer rape appearing from under weathered clods on the rougher winter seedbeds which had been sprayed in the autumn.


The disease strategy starts now and I generally try to hold back with the T1 until GS 32/33, which will occur roughly mid to end of April, and hopefully operate a four-week interval ending around June 20 or later.

The question now is the inclusion of a T0 fungicide to carry the crop until the heavyweight T1 application. Generally, I would assess the risk by variety, rotation, growth stage, fertiliser application, crop potential, disease levels and the planned T1 fungicide.

A cost-effective T0 application would be based around Chlorothalonil with or without a Triazole, depending on the answers to the above questions.

Winter barley management is centred around some wild oat control, growth regulation and primarily disease control.

Rhynchosporium will take off and will coincide with new leaf growth so it is essential to have robust rates of fungicide in the plant to protect the new growth.

Oilseed rape is just beginning to flower, but crops vary from 20 to 60cm as a result of the pigeon onslaught.

Crops flower despite the plant and canopy size and growth stage is determined by temperature and light, as in all crops.

There is very little disease evident, with occasional leaf spot, and a Triazole fungicide application should fit the bill.

A great start to the season let's hope it continues.

Gerry Bird is a crop consultant and member of the ITCA

Indo Farming