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Preparing to Drive Crop Canopies Forward - Darryl Shailes - Arable Farming

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There’s an old saying in the village we’ve just moved into, “don’t worry when the water comes up…as what comes up goes back down!” When you see the water a few feet from your back door it’s a bit disconcerting. But after it came up it then went down and apparently was the highest it’s been since 1968. That is part of the joy of living in the flood plain and we now have an idyllic view of cattle grazing in the meadows towards the river.

The huge amount of rain countrywide has severely affected spring plantings - the worst I can recall - although I don’t remember the spring of ‘68 and what effect it had. Watching the weather reports on TV, I know the Easter period can historically be a bad time for floods and heavy rain (linked to the moon phases).  But as I’m writing the forecast is for a dry period so hopefully there will a lot a beet and potatoes planted as soon as the soil dries out.

The main consideration now must be preserving good soil conditions as we start planting the crop. Late planting isn’t a great place to be, but late planting into poor soil conditions is even worse.

If we look at last year’s beet crop it was almost a complete reversal of weather and soil conditions. The crop was drilled in good conditions and was timely, but emergence was very patchy due to excessively dry conditions on anything but the kindest of soil. This led to all sorts of problems - especially with weeds - as the crops were very patchy and weed control was a long and drawn out operation. Many fields didn’t achieve full emergence (let alone full canopy) until some significant rains in June. I remember going to cereals and seeing one of just a few crops which were meeting across the row and that was the 13th June.

However, 2018 produced a record yield for sugar beet in the UK with the average standing at being 83.4 tonnes/heactare – significantly up on the previous best of 79.8 t/ha. Who would have bet on that in June last year? It just shows how agricultural crops have a huge ability to compensate and we should not be too downhearted at this stage. Focus on managing the crops as effectively as possible and hopefully the weather will pay ball to bring things back into line. Unfortunately, we can’t control the weather…and the Aussies can’t tamper with the ball.

What can we do to drive the canopy forward? The key here is to ensure timely Nitrogen applications.  Nitrogen is one the main drivers of plant growth as it is leaf canopy which gathers the sun’s energy and turns into carbohydrates, sugars and starch.  Nitrogen needs to be available early and the BBRO advice is to apply 30-40kg at planting (of the beet crop) and the rest at full emergence - so don’t delay.

Split Timing

In potatoes the need for split timing inputs for Nitrogen is being questioned in the latest research. Nitrogen incorporated just prior to planting and rest down the spout at planting may be the best plan this season to push canopies as hard as we can.

Managing other pest problems will also have a positive effect on canopy development – eliminating weed competition and protecting the foliage from disease attack - but what about anything else?

We’ve looked at various different things over the years in the way of bio-stimulants and some of them also drive canopy development.  Last year in our trials we saw a statistically significant increase in leaf canopy and ground cover from a plant derived amino acid product. If you are considering looking at amino acids ensure they’re not derived from animal by-products, as British Sugar have prohibited their use in a note that came out in early March (about the time that we normally drill).