One thing that is evident from looking at crops in the last few weeks is that the battle to control diseases and weeds is not getting any easier.
In many crops there are diseases and weeds that are not controlled for a variety of reasons. Now is the time to walk these crops and see what issues, if any, are out there before the combines start to roll.
This is an important part of developing an Integrated Pest Management Pan to control whatever issues are still in crops. The answer is not always in the can anymore. Viewing at this stage of the year gives you a good insight into how the agronomy decisions have worked during the season and what decisions may need to be reviewed.
Bring a notebook or maps with you when you are walking and take notes. There are four key stages in developing a management plan:
■ Identification Each problem needs to be identified, be that a weed, disease or pest. Denying that there is a problem won't make it go away.
■ Review Look at what controls were put in place during the season and find out why the problem still exists.
■ Assess options Look at what alternatives are available e.g. rotation, cultivation, prevention, chemistry etc.
■ Formulate a plan Develop a plan with your agronomist which includes as many alternative control options as possible, both chemical and non-chemical.
Disease control generally wasn't a big issue in 2020 as the drought sorted that out, there were some problems.
Yellow rust, for example, was again an issue in some wheat crops so look at these varieties, see how they look now and calculate the extra spend required to keep the crops clean.
Varieties with poor ratings for disease or straw strength can add to the overall management requirements and they don't always justify the extra cost, so choose your varieties for next season carefully.
It is also evident that in many cases we are struggling to get on top of some problem weeds, especially grass weeds.
There is plenty of wild oats, bromes, canary grass and blackgrass to be found in fields at the moment, so we need to question the management choices that have been put in place.
They are particularly common in places where the sprayer is struggling to reach such as around poles, corners, field margins and gateways. Now is the time to take action and one of the key controls is to try to prevent seed return.
Rogueing, where possible, should play an important role in any plan to control grass weeds where populations are low. This is a very cheap method of controlling the problem compared to spraying which can cost €40/ha or more.
We have seen crops destroyed in an effort to get on top of blackgrass.
This was a result of letting the problem go uncontrolled for a few years until it was so bad that there was no other choice.
In Oak Park we have seen that cutting out strips of crop before the weeds are headed out and sowing arable grass margins has helped prevent the spread of sterile brome in particular. So consider these as viable options where brome is getting out of control.
Develop a harvest management plan to prevent further spread and a cleaning protocol should also be developed.
Start with cleaning down combines and balers before harvest begins as some weeds may still be in the machines from last year.
Fields or parts of fields with known problems should be harvested last where possible. Machines should then be cleaned down before moving to the next field.
How often do we see weed issues inside the gate where the combine starts up? This is a sure sign that the problem was brought in from another field.
All farms should invest in an air compressor or leaf blower that can give even a basic blow down before the machine leaves the field.
Then run the machine before leaving the field to shake off chaff that has become dislodged. Talk to your contractors and inform them of issues that you may have, as you don't want them spreading the problems to other fields on the farm or, worse again, to other farms.
With the EU setting targets to reduce pesticide usage dramatically over the next decade, now is the time to get on top of these problems while we still can.
A good walk at this time of year can be good for both the waist and the pocket.