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High virus levels from last season means there will be much more inoculum in the environment – Arable Farming – Darryl Shailes

As I’m writing this in early December, it has just started snowing. So, let’s think about what I’d like Santa to bring to make 2021 a brighter place than 2020...

The drift way at the bottom of the garden, part of the Waveney flood plain drainage scheme has just been dredged, so when that all settles down it should make a difference to how the garden drains and looks, which will be an early present.

We lost our dog Scruff in 2020, she was a border terrier cross jack russell and came from the Dogs Trust at Snetterton over 18 years ago, so maybe a replacement is now due. Whitey our virtually tame white pheasant who used to wake us up most days with his loud crowing call, seems to have disappeared. I’ve already spoken to a local gamekeeper and a replacement for Whitey will be sought next spring. We also lost mum, but she’s irreplaceable.

Weather

I would like a cold, dry winter – that would set a few things to right. Many of the problems we had in sugar beet have been a result of last year’s very mild and wet winter. A cold, dry winter will have a great impact on the aphids; in continental Europe the further east you go aphids and hence virus become less of an issue, purely as a result of the long, cold winters.

When I was a student at ADAS, I worked on organophosphate-resistant myzus persicae. One of the theories at the time was if they have mutated to become better equipped to survive pesticides, they will have a fitness penalty and maybe they will be less able to survive the winter.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case and they were not significantly different to non-resistant clones. The common effect tends to be if it gets cold very quickly, they will die, but if the temperature drops slowly by feeding on the overwintering plants, the aphids build up a sort of anti-freeze, they survive, but just become less fecund. Let’s hope for both.

Frost

A cold, dry winter will also help with land preparation. The lack of frost mould on heavier soils last year had a huge effect on the ability of growers to prepare a decent seedbed and then with no rain, good establishment was impossible in some places.

Let’s hope for some help from Government to allow a neonicotinoid seed dressing to be used if needed for aphid control. As you will have seen from British Sugar, an emergency approval has been sought, no doubt when you read this a decision will have been made.

We will still probably need some foliar application, at least be very vigilant with our scouting. The high virus levels from last season means there will be much more inoculum in the environment to contend with whether we have a cold winter, seed treatment or both.

Let’s hope for a return to normal, less issue with Covid-19 and strong demand for our processing and packing potatoes. They need to be worth more to cope with increasing costs.

The issue we are having is with loss of chlorpropham (CIPC) and having to relearn potato storage with mint oil or ethylene and spend on stores to make them less leaky, increasing costs.

Blight

We are also losing mancozeb at a time when blight control is becoming more challenging due to 36-A2 and 37-A2. There are still plenty of very good blight products around and blight control shouldn’t be a problem. In our own blight trials, the non-mancozeb treatments all control blight but they are all more expensive.

Aphids are, of course, an issue in seed potatoes, so again, a hard winter will help, a lack of products available for good control and desiccation issues and blackleg will almost certainly lead to reducing the number of generation times seed can be grown on, so again, an added cost.

All of these cost increases can be managed if the crop is worth more. A big fear after Brexit is that agricultural research in the UK may be underfunded. We need all the R&D we can get to cope with the changes we are all having to face. And lastly but not least, a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to all.

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