Wide variations in winter crop growth and potential will make carefully tailored agronomy essential this season, say agronomists.


Depressed grain prices and fields of winter cereals and winter oilseed rape (WOSR) ranging from ‘normal’ to ‘backward’ mean that managing crops for the best economic return will be a fine balance this season, says Yorkshire-based ProCam agronomist, Gary Webster.

Fields will need assessing on a case-by-case basis, he says, and inputs tailored with a sharp focus. And with diseases having such a big impact on yield, he says creating healthy canopies will be key.

“Ukrainian wheat has knocked about £30/t off wheat prices since Christmas,” says Gary, “and barley prices have also fallen. We’re finding yellow rust in later-drilled wheat varieties, and the majority of wheat is stuffed with Septoria – all in a year when there’s pressure on expenditure. A healthier crop can fight off disease better. So as well as tailored fungicide use, I think nutrition is going to be key.”

One upside of the current time, believes Gary, is that there are several new and innovative nutrition-type treatments now available to help crops.

“It’s possible to pull a crop around that’s on its knees,” he says. “Besides inputs such as trace elements and biostimulants, we have biological treatments. The endophyte treatment, Encera for example, contains nitrogen-fixing bacteria, which take atmospheric nitrogen (N) and make it directly available to the plant.“We’re looking to replace some granular N with Encera. This is partly to reduce the carbon footprint of manufactured N use. But also, by having an N supply inside the plant, it helps to mitigate the risk of slow N uptake if we enter a dry period. It needs to be in the plant early. I’ll then do tissue testing pre-T2 and top up with what the plant needs.”

Fungicide strategy
When it comes to fungicide strategies, Gary says for higher potential crops that will give better returns he will be focusing on newer fungicide chemistry, while lower potential crops will be targeted with more established, tried and tested fungicides. Where Septoria pressure is a concern, after including a multi-site such as folpet or sulphur to reduce pressure at T0, or using Laminone which stimulates the plant’s own defences, his strategy will be to hit the disease hard with the T1 fungicide, with the aim of easing the pressure for the flag leaf (T2) spray.

“Clearly, it depends on the weather.”“Where yellow rust is a concern in wheat, this will need tackling at T0 and T1. You still need to keep a watch for it at T2 but hopefully it should have been controlled by then.“In winter barley, we mainly suffer from Rhynchosporium and net blotch in my area. The standard programme will focus on these at T1. Depending on the season, the T2 spray will be when we assess if we can ease back, although we do have to manage brackling,” he adds.

In contrast, Gary reckons WOSR management will be far less straightforward. Devastating attacks of cabbage stem flea beetle since Christmas have left wide variations in canopy size in some fields, he says, so these may end up being split treated.

“Trace elements such as boron and sulphur are a no-brainer in OSR, but lack of molybdenum can also be a real problem. A sclerotinia spray is a must-do because the disease has the potential to decimate yield. Where appropriate, an early application of a fungicide with strong plant growth regulation (PGR) properties (such as Toprex) will even the crop up and consolidates the flowering period, which can subsequently reduce sclerotinia risk.”