Particularly low soil moisture deficits across the country
this autumn and a recent record of very wet Octobers make
it vital for growers to get their winter cereals drilled-up
with considerable care and as little delay as possible
this season, warns ProCam technical agronomist, Nick Myers.
Met office records show October rainfall in England & Wales
exceeding 110 mm in just 25 years out of the past 100.
However, he points out that we’ve seen this level
of rainfall for three Octobers in a row and in six of the
past seven years, with rainfall in the month so far this
century nearly 50% above its long-term average.
What is more, Nick Myers explains that soil moisture deficits
across the country averaged just 17 mm at the start of
this August compared with fully 112 mm in 2006, making
soils highly vulnerable to even small amounts of additional
“With the rain we’ve had so far this month,
we calculate soils across much of England & Wales are
currently at or about field capacity,” he observes. “So
they will need to be worked extremely carefully ahead of
drilling. And it won’t take much October rain to
seriously disrupt crop establishment.”
Under these circumstances, Nick Myers stresses that growers
have a fine balance to strike between minimising soil structural
damage on the one hand and ensuring they get drilled-up
without delay on the other. At the same time, he insists
they need to make sufficient time for good pre-drilling
and pre-emergence weed control wherever grass weeds are
The big question, of course, is how can all this be done?
Especially so in a season in which harvesting has already
caused serious compaction problems for many.
“Recent experience suggests you should plan to be
drilled-up by mid-October rather than the end of the month
these days,” he suggests. “But this doesn’t
mean you should rush to start too early. Many soils need
time to dry out and every field should have at least one
cycle of stale seedbed weed control to take the pressure
off post-ems. I still see mid-September as the best time
to start wheat drilling.
“Having started, though, you should aim to keep
going. Once you’ve finished your first wheats move
straight into your second cereals wherever conditions permit.
Take-all carryover may be high this season, but a specialist
seed treatment like Latitude (silthiofam) will counter
this threat very effectively. It will always be better
to drill second wheats, in particular, earlier with the
seed dressing than later without it.”
While everyone should aim to push on with their drilling,
Nick Myers is adamant that flexibility must be their watchword
in establishment this autumn. He advises everyone to be
as flexible as they can be in both their choice of cultivator
and timing of cultivations, aiming to work the soil as
little as possible to alleviate any surface compaction
and get it into a drillable condition.
“Ploughing may be preferable in some cases,” he
observes. “After all, it’s a very good way
of getting rid of soil moisture. However, the speed at
which ploughed ground can dry makes it vital to time your
second cultivation very carefully to avoid creating boulder-sized
“In general, though, I’d be looking to work
the ground from the top down. In many cases, I’d
be putting the emphasis on tines rather than discs to avoid
adding to surface compaction and smearing problems. And
I’d be carefully tailoring both the type and timing
of cultivations to soil conditions.
“Above all, you should have the nerve and patience
to stay off ground that’s too wet to work,” Nick
Myers insists. “Large, relatively heavy equipment
is often an advantage rather than a liability here, because
it gives you the capacity to hold off working when you
need to. Cultivator drills are equally valuable for the
speed at which they can be operated and their ability to
tolerate far less well-worked seedbeds.
“Yes you should plan to get drilled-up by mid-October
if at all possible. But not at any cost. If conditions
turn too wet it will be far better to delay drilling rather
than attempt to maul a crop in and risk doing even more
damage to the ground.
“Remember you always have the option of drilling
a late winter cereal – and November can provide some
excellent conditions. Alternatively, with prices as they
are, spring crops can be very profitable too.
“One field always has to be drilled last,” he
adds. “And it will pay to make this the one with
the greatest weed problems. That way you’ll have
the time to deal with them effectively without compromising
your main winter crop establishment.”
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