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Winter Barley

Spring 2022 round-up: around the regions with ADAMA’s agronomy team

With warmer weather hopefully not too far away, we talk to ADAMA’s regional agronomy team to find out how the spring drilling season progressed, how winter crops are faring and what to look out for in terms of disease management.
Winter Barley

How has the spring drilling season gone in your region and how have crops progressed since they were sown?

Will Nicholls, Regional Agronomy Manager, North and North Midlands: Spring drilling has gone well in the North and North Midlands, with most crops drilled in good ground conditions thanks for a favourable weather window which certainly aided progress.

Spring barley has been the favoured crop locally, but preparations for fodder beet and potato crops are also well underway with planting ongoing. Given the current global situation, a lot of growers have also considered spring wheat to make up for any potential future shortfalls: this is likely to be in place of land proposed for fallow rather than existing rotations, but it will be interesting to see uptake.

With crops in the ground, we could do with a few days of steady rain to really get things growing. On the other hand, the fair weather has made it somewhat easier to schedule fertiliser and pesticide applications, although the windy weather has caused a few headaches for sprayer operators.

Holly Pratt, Regional Agronomy Manager, East: Spring drilling has progressed well in the East, with spells of good weather allowing drilling and planting without too many hiccups. Spring barley, potatoes and sugar beet are the main spring crops in the east, with beans and a little spring wheat also going into the ground.

Conditions have been fair, although some blustery weather and cold conditions may have slowed some spraying workloads, with thoughts now turning to the need for a little rainfall and how to use fertiliser as efficiently as possible.

Jodie Littleford, Regional Agronomy Manager, North East: Spring drilling has progressed well in the North-East with largely dry conditions allowing for easy travel and field operations, though this has been punctuated with some unsettled spells and windy days. Spring barley, understandably, is one of the biggest crops to have been sown, but plenty of beans, peas and sugar beet have also been going in: there have arguably been a few more pulse crops being drilled compared to usual, presumably as a strategy to take some of the pressure off fertiliser.

Potato planting has also kicked off in the region with Shotput applications planned prior to emergence: remember to check varietal sensitivity to metribuzin if you are in this camp.

Most crops have established or are establishing well, and whilst I don’t want to jinx things, we could now use a bit of rain to avoid the droughted spring conditions we’ve seen in the last couple of seasons.

Jonny Oosthuizen, Regional Agronomy Manager, South West: Spring drilling has generally gone very well in the South and West. The dry conditions at the beginning of the spring presented plenty of opportunities for land to be worked, with March proving to be a busy month for drilling.

Most drilling was done and dusted by mid-April with spring barley and pulses proving popular. Forage maize and fodder beet have also been popular choices in parts of my region.

Conditions have also been favourable for the application of pre-emergence herbicides with growers able to create well-consolidated seedbeds which have helped to maximise the efficacy of the herbicides applied.

Most crops have established well but could now benefit from a drink.

What about winter; how have they progressed in recent weeks and is there much disease around?

Will (North): Most winter cereals are looking very well with some lush crops coming into the spring. As with recently drilled spring crops, a lot of winter wheats and barleys need some rain, but they are still doing well which is great to see.

Oilseed rape is a bit more uneven, with pigeons the main cause of concern. There’s nothing that shouldn’t recover at this point and hopefully deliver some promising yields given current market prices.

Diseases have so far been confined to the lower leaf levels in cereals, with septoria not too difficult to find in wheat crops. There are also some moderate levels of mildew in winter barley although this too is so far only present in the lower canopy.

The cold weather in early April certainly helped to reduce the rate of disease development, although the following showery conditions did result in some spore movement upwards though plants, but this spread has subsequently been halted by the recent dry spell. It is worth noting however, that early morning dews combined with prevailing winds are continuing to move disease around within crops which needs consideration at T1 timings.

Holly (East): Most winter crops are looking well, although wheats are at a range of growth stages depending on drilling date. The recent cold night-time conditions have possibly slowed growth rates a little, but crops seem full of potential. Oilseed rape crops are also looking pretty good, with most fields now in flower.

In terms of disease, septoria and rust are visible in crops of wheat, with the more susceptible varieties showing obviously higher levels of infection compared to their resistant counterparts: the mild winter has enabled disease inoculum to take hold in early drilled, susceptible varieties, while the variable spring conditions (some nice weather and some colder conditions) allowing crops to develop relatively well whilst also keeping diseases in check.

Jodie (North East): Winter cereals are generally looking well and full of promise: winter wheats have started to change colour to a deeper green having slurped up some fertiliser and barleys are racing away with some flag leaves emerging meaning we’re coming up to the latest timing for late PGRs: ADAMA’s straight ethephon products can be used in winter wheat as well as winter/spring barley as a robust end to the PGR programme to mitigate risks of lodging and brackling (but please check the label for growth stage cut-offs).

Oilseed rape crops are also progressing well with most already bursting into flower and getting more yellow by the day. Those patches which were pigeon grazed are lagging behind, but flowering sprays are now going on to coat the petals and prevent sclerotinia developing later in the season. As a result, we’re getting close to the point at which the gate can be closed on OSR until desiccation decisions have to be made.

In terms of cereals diseases, rust and mildew have been the main drivers in barley but first fungicides have largely kept on top of things. In wheat, rust has developed in localised areas on susceptible varieties, with septoria remaining the focus for most fungicide programmes: despite the dry conditions septoria is active on the lower leaves of many crops, with leaf contact and morning dews proving to be enough to propagate the disease in the absence of rain. Fungicide decisions should therefore be tailored to try and keep the disease in the lower canopy and to prevent it spreading up onto newly emerging leaves.

Jonny (South West): The region’s winter wheat crops are really starting to move now thanks to some noticeably warmer weather over the last few days. The same can be said for winter barley with some of the more forward crops ready for their T2 spray very soon. Oilseed rape crops are also looking good and are well into flowering with some sclerotinia sprays already on; it won’t be long before people close the gate on OSR for this season.

In terms of cereal disease, septoria has been present in the lower canopy of many varieties of wheat for a while, with T0 treatments working well to hold infections back on the more susceptible varieties. Yellow rust, until recently, was harder to find but is now coming through clearly – again, on susceptible varieties.

In general, the kinder weather has resulted in crops looking lush and clean, but don’t be fooled: it’s easy to forget what happened last year when crops also looked very clean due to the dry spring. This resulted in some growers electing to hold back at the key fungicide timings, which, with hindsight they wish they hadn’t. Without an accurate long-range weather forecast, along with the unpredictability of our localised maritime weather events and current crop values, I think most would agree that frugal attitudes to products and rates at the key timings this year could prove unwise.  

How have growers in your region been dealing with disease pressures this year?

Will (North): With grain prices remaining buoyant and the potential for wheat shortages, it seems sensible to protect winter crops as well as possible. Any T0 applications that have been made have largely been applied to varieties with a low disease resistance rating, and where a T0 treatment wasn’t used, the consensus is that a robust T1 treatment will be required.

Tebuconazole has proved to be popular as a ‘holding’ treatment at T0 and has been used in combination with a strobulurin where yellow rust is a potential threat.

The inclusion of products containing actives such as benzovindiflupyr or mefentrifluconazole are examples of likely approaches for T1 in wheat. These should be used at appropriate rates with the multi-site, folpet, to provide adequate protection of both the crop and chemistry. The T1 timing also allows for the inclusion of a PGR, with chlormequat likely to be a common tank mix choice. 

Holly (East): Whether or not growers decided to apply a T0 spray seems to have been driven by the presence or absence of yellow rust, with susceptible varieties receiving an application of tebuconazole and, in cases where septoria pressure was high, the addition of folpet.

T1 treatments have begun are taking with many based around an SDHI mixture. The long gap between treatments (due to the ongoing cold conditions) and memories of substantial septoria pressure going into in May last year, plus the potential for good margins this year, means many growers are leaning towards a more robust T1 treatment this time round. Only time will tell how effective these programmes are, but staying ahead of diseases and maintaining a protectant position with strong fungicide applications is important: it’s therefore important to look beyond the current conditions and to consider what might happen weather-wise over the next 3-4 weeks when formulating imminent treatments.

Jodie (North East): T0 decisions were largely driven by rust pressure with tebuconazole playing a key role here. Where there was a high risk of septoria growers have also used folpet at T0.

Some T1 treatments have already been applied to some of the wheats in the region with the rest planned for this week. Product choice is being tailored to disease risk factors such as drilling date and variety but consideration to the weather over the next month will also contribute heavily: it’s important to stay protectant with fungicides in order to avoid being faced with the more difficult task of finding a curative way out.

Lower risk situations (e.g. where a resistant variety was drilled further into the autumn) may enable a lighter approach at T1, whereas higher risk situations (early drilled susceptible varieties) will require beefier mixtures with some opting to use mefentrifluconazole combinations at this timing. In either scenario, Arizona (500 g/L folpet) is a useful mixing partner as it gives additional disease control, contributes to improved margins and can help to manage resistance.

Jonny (South West): Disease strategies have so far been dictated by variety choice and the yellow rust risk. Generally, where Extase and Theodore have been grown, and the forecast suggested dry weather, many opted out of a T0. As always, there is an element of risk that accompanies this strategy. On the other hand, those that started the campaign with yield as the key driver have confidently opted to employ earlier protection with a T0 spray.

Where T0 applications were made, they often contained folpet, tebuconazole or azoxystrobin, or a combination of these actives.

For T1 treatments, growers and advisors have been in agreement that stronger chemistry should be used, especially where a T0 spray was omitted, often electing to use SDHIs in mixture with a triazole or strobilurin and folpet. By the time you read this, it’s likely most T1 sprays will have been applied in the south/west.

Should growers be considering a T1.5 treatment and if so, what should they use?

Will (North): Whether or not a subsequent T1.5 treatment will be needed largely depends on individual circumstance: if timely T0 and T1 treatments have gone on there should be sufficient protection if crops to continue to grow at pace and reach T2 in good condition. However, if for whatever reason crop growth slows (e.g. as a result of a lack of moisture) and spray intervals become elongated, it could be worth applying a T1.5 treatment to protect the mid-leaf layers to avoid latent infection prior to flag emergence. As long as the maximum overall dosage of 3.0 L/ha isn’t exceeded, the T1.5 window could be the ideal time to add another 1.0L/ha of folpet.

Holly (East): If the gap between T1 and T2 treatments ends up being extended, a T1.5 spray could be a good insurance policy to ensure crops don’t go unprotected for more than four weeks, but by-and-large, T1.5 treatments aren’t currently in most growers’ Plan A.

Jodie (North East): Given the current conditions and crop growth rates, T2 treatments are anticipated to start on or around 20th May which hopefully means the gap between T1 and T2 won’t extend beyond the usual 3-4 weeks and fungicides won’t run out of steam. However, if this gap does extend a T1.5 interval might be needed to keep crops protected: as always it’s a case of watching what happens as the season unfolds.

Jonny (South West): Whether or not growers will need to apply a T1.5 treatment will be determined by the weather forecast, ongoing disease pressure and whether or not the T1 spray was robust, on in good time and hit the target leaf. As always, protection is the key to preventing diseases from moving up the leaf layers so growers need to remain agile and shouldn’t rule out a T1.5 just yet.

What about crop nutrition; what are growers doing to mitigate high fertiliser prices? 

Will (North): Bouyant grain prices are reducing the impact of high fertiliser prices, with many growers having bought at least some fertiliser before prices really started to climb. It’s next year’s crop nutrition needs that are the bigger concern, especially if grain prices fall and fertiliser costs remain high.

Growers are certainly thinking very carefully about how much fertiliser to use and where, but with cereal prices where they are it doesn’t make sense to deprive those crops which are showing great yield potential.

Holly (East): In many cases thoughts have been focussed on margin over cost, and the decisions over where, when and at what rate to apply fertiliser varying depending on the price at which inputs were purchased.

Jodie (North East): Fertiliser prices have skyrocketed this last year and with that in mind plenty have been doing the calculations to work out the economic rates to apply- those that bought well may not have had to scale back too much, especially with crop potential where it is, but others may have had to cut back rates in line with expected yields. Therefore, having strong resilient crops that are better able to utilise nutrients with greater efficiency is the main strategy going forward- considerations towards micronutrients, keeping ahead of disease and the use of biostimulants all playing a role to maximise plant health.

Jonny (South West): There was a lot of talk earlier in the year about cutting nitrogen rates significantly, but thankfully, it seems as though many have decided that due to the potential rewards available (high commodity prices) it’s more appropriate to optimise the rates in line with crop potential.

The higher fertiliser prices have certainly focused attention on optimising efficiencies, with other nutritional strategies include enhancing the micronutrient profile of crops – revitalising Liebig’s ‘leaky bucket’ (law of the minimum). Others have chosen to refrain from taking out volunteer legumes in order to exploit their nitrogen fixing properties. I think a bigger question on people’s minds is how the fertiliser environment will look for the 2022/23 cropping year.

As the season progresses, what other advice have you got for growers in your region?

Will (North): With winter crops looking so good it’ll pay to remain vigilant: with the recent cold snap reducing yellow rust, slowing septoria and killing off a lot of mildew it would be easy to be lulled into a false sense of security. In reality, heavy dews and strong winds can still carry spores up through successive leaf layers, and with septoria having a latent period of infection of 14-28 days crops may be infected without any visible symptoms. It’s therefore worth protecting each leaf layer and staying ahead of disease to avoid a curative situation. A robust T1 combining single site modes of action with a multisite would be the best approach for both efficacy and resistance management. And if the gap between T1 and T2 becomes elongated it may be worth considering a T1.5 treatment to fill the gap.

Holly (East): The key advice is to make sure that that you have an integrated approach to disease management. This means using a diverse range of active ingredients and modes of action within the programme (maximise the use of multi-site fungicide such as folpet), making sure you keep ahead of the disease and staying in a protectant scenario.

Jodie (North East): The key thing to remember in terms of disease control is that by the time you can see symptoms, it’s generally too late to do anything about it as the chemistry we have is largely protectant with limited curative activity. Hence, making decisions based on all the risk factors and not just the visible signs of disease is key. It is also important to remember that fungicides are essentially an insurance policy against the weather over the coming weeks, which begs the question: how much do you trust the forecast?

Jonny (South West): My advice is always to remain vigilant and stay on the front foot. It’s a common theme, but with crop and fertiliser prices where they are, fungicide costs remain the most stable input cost both in terms of economics and return on investment.

We’ve recently reached a critical point in winter wheat; the transition from the foundation phase of growth into the construction phase. The next two months (from first node to flowering) will see rapid growth of the main yield-forming leaves alongside the formation of deeper roots, both of which will help plants to maximise their potential. It’s essential during this phase that crops are closely monitored and leaves are protected from disease to allow them to perform a fully functioning role of being the ‘solar panel’ that collects energy from the sun and converts it into yield.