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    Drill with Maximum Care and Minimum Delay this Autumn, Growers Advised 30/08/07

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.

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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 rainfall.

“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 a problem.

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 lumps.

“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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