Talking Agronomy: Chris Martin, Maximising yield potential

Article taken from Arable Farming, May 2017.

Most crops are showing a lot of potential and our decisions and actions over the next couple of months are going to be crucial in ensuring we maximise that potential. The relatively mild winter and early spring, combined with ample rainfall events, has led to all but the very late-sown crops appearing to be very forward.

Some oilseed rape crops in the region were coming into flower in late March, the earliest I have seen, and the early height of many crops restricting even spread, meant the last solid nitrogen fertiliser application was applied at a much earlier calendar date than normal. It will be important to top these fields up with 40-SOkg of liquid nitrogen, alongside the main sclerotinia spray in order to ensure nitrogen is available to prolong the crops' green area duration. The potentially longer flowering period is also likely to mean that in high risk scenarios, two or even three sclerotinia sprays may well be needed.

Disease development

While the mild and damp weather at the end of March was great for cereal growth, it was also ideal for disease development, and the correct fungicide programme this season is likely to give a huge return on investment. Pretty much every day in early April I had calls saying yellow rust had been found in yet another variety, and in our untreated variety strips, clean varieties are very
much in the minority.

Mildew has continued to thrive following the mild winter and can be found to some degree on most varieties, particularly on the lighter land, but varieties such as Claire and Leeds will continue to require specific treatment as we move through the fungicide programme. Most T1 fungicides will be chosen to provide some stem-based activity, as there were plenty of early disease symptoms.

However, the biggest general threat continues to be septoria tritici. A large reservoir of inoculum, followed by plenty of rainfall readily being splashed onto final leaf 4 and the emerging leaf 3. Thankfully, the good weather window in early April meant most TOs were timed pretty well, allowing a protective coating of chlorothalonil onto the plant as soon as final leaf 4 was fully emerged. While this leaf won't contribute massively to yield itself, keeping it clean is like creating a firebreak, taking the pressure off later sprays designed to protect the key yield-forming leaves.

Autumn residual grass-weed control has been pretty good in the region this year, taking the pressure off contact graminicides, which have generally been applied in good conditions to small, actively-growing crops and I am hopeful of some of the best control in a number of seasons. The exception to this is wild oats, which have sailed through most autumn residuals and thrived over the mild winter.

Many fields which haven't seen wild oats for years may need a specific treatment this season and will certainly be keeping agronomists on their toes. Cleavers and groundsel appear to be the two broad leaved weeds which have escaped the autumn treatments and both should be controlled at first opportunity.

Spring crops have gone in in nearly perfect conditions and in many cases two to three weeks earlier than normal and so, like most winter crops, they have a lot of potential. If the late spring and summer weather play ball all the foundations are in place for big crops across the board this season providing we continue to manage our growing programmes  correctly.

Agronomist facts

Chris Martin is a technical manager for Agrovista , based in the north east of England. His role is to provide technical advice to growers over an area extending from Lincolnshire to Scotland. Prior to this, he was an agronomist with the company for 15 years and continues to provide agronomy advice to a number of growers producing combinable crops in the Scotch Corner area.


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