Fall crops look strong and spring planting is going well

Fall crops look strong despite some threat of disease

Fall crops look strong despite some threat of disease

Independent agronomist Patrick Stephenson offers a summary of how the fall harvests are doing. Wendy Short Reports.

The winter has been fairly merciful to farms in the north of England and spring planting has progressed well, with autumn harvests looking strong despite some threat of disease, according to independent agronomist Patrick Stephenson.

The region’s spring grain acreage is down slightly from the average this year, largely due to favorable weather during the fall planting season, Patrick said.

“I would estimate spring planting was down 10 to 15 percent,” he said. “Farmers were eager to capitalize on the forecast of strong wheat prices. It was understandable that many would have opted for a second, or even a third autumn harvest of wheat, especially as the planting conditions were very favorable and the weather from the previous harvest “It had raised few problems. However some areas, including Cumbria for example, have had the misfortune to experience high levels of autumn rainfall.”

Some low-level disease had been observed in cereals in mid-March, he added.

Patrick Stephenson, independent agronomist

Patrick Stephenson, independent agronomist

Patrick Stephenson, independent agronomist

“Both septoria and yellow rust were visible in fall-planted wheat crops, with brown rust and hard patches in a number of barley fields. I would recommend growers stick to their disease spraying schedules, because these infections can cause severe yield losses and impact crop quality.

“In terms of the spring harvest, the soils were in good condition, with the exception perhaps of a few localized areas. That means the drilling has been going well up north and I’ve heard few complaints. Even the snow melt didn’t last long and overall the season started encouragingly.”

Grain prices have fallen in recent months, while some input costs have risen sharply, he noted.

“The good news is that the price of nitrogen has fallen by as much as £200/tonne, even though many arable producers had already bought their fertilizers in advance and paid the best prices to secure supplies.

“However, the average market figure for pesticides, including fungal treatments, has increased by about 20%. This is an alarming development that will have a negative effect on profits. I would estimate that producing one per tonne of grain would cost around £180.

Fall crops look strong despite some threat of disease

Fall crops look strong despite some threat of disease

Fall crops look strong despite some threat of disease

“At that level, profitability will be very sensitive to market changes. In my opinion, what has been described as the ‘honeymoon period’ for wheat is over.”

The potential benefits of biological treatments for fighting pests and diseases have been widely touted, but Patrick believes the scientific evidence may fall short of some of the manufacturers’ claims at the moment.

“The main problem is the lack of consistency with the results,” he stressed. “It’s about deciding where they might be appropriate and where not. A biological fungicide is designed to increase the plant’s natural defenses and stimulate resistance of fungi, for example. This seems to have worked well in some cases, but we need to learn much more about the performance of biological remedies before making any major claims about their effectiveness.

“We are witnessing the dawn of a new era in protecting crops from pests and diseases and several biological pesticides are in the pipeline, but we are not there yet.”

Oats are becoming a slightly more popular option among the cereal range, but there are pros and cons associated with the crop, he said.

“Oats offer an excellent breakout opportunity, as they are not susceptible to the harmful fungal disease that affects other cereal species. Weed control is not always straightforward and the marketing of oats can be problematic. Even growers who have secured a contract may find that crops intended to be sold on October 1, for example, may not be moved until the following January The payment will still be made, but on some farms this scenario can cause serious problems of storage, especially on mixed units which may require construction for livestock”.

A new product to aid in the fight against black weed has proved useful, but Patrick described the problem as a “campaign, rather than a battle”.

“BASF’s product launch Luximo has provided a new mode of action for dealing with black grass; it is recommended for use in conjunction with culture controls. Residual herbicides worked well on most farms last fall, but blackgrass reduction programs must be underway because the weed poses a real threat to crop performance,” he said.

While excessive drought is normally limited to the southern regions, a lack of moisture caused problems for growers in some of the northern counties last year, he noted.

“We went through a fairly dry winter and growers producing crops that require irrigation and need extraction licenses have expressed some minor concerns. Cereals are less vulnerable if they encounter low rainfall situations. Farmers have long memories and very dry springs and the rainy summer of 2012 have not been forgotten; hopefully this pattern will not repeat itself,” said Patrick.

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