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Secrets to spring wheat success Spring wheat has been shown to be the best gross margin performer in the second year of field-scale rotation studies at Agrii’s Stow Longa black-grass technology centre. It significantly out-performed the spring barley grown alongside it as well as the best late-autumndrilled crop of winter wheat. It also delivered the most effective control of black-grass. However, the company’s head of agronomy Colin Lloyd (right), and northern R&D manager Jim Carswell (below) insist that spring wheat must be managed correctly to deliver these benefits. Last season’s mid-Marchsown crop of Mulika averaged 7.83t/ha to deliver a gross margin of £534/ ha and a summer black-grass population of 24 ears/m2. This compared with 6.32t/ha, £404/ha and 37 ears/m2 from spring barley sown on the same date and 7.6t/ha, £237/ha and 37 ears/ m2 from the best crop of Edgar, the most black-grass-competitive winter wheat, sown in late October. “Yields of more than 9t/ha and protein contents of more than 14 per cent in other recent trials across our research network underline the clear potential of Mulika, which commands the lion’s share of today’s spring wheat market,” says Colin. “On the other hand we’ve seen crops badly hit by gout fly giving little more than 2t/ha. Likewise, removing ergot typically adds £10-

15/t to production costs. “And the AHDB quality survey shows only 23 per cent of Mulika samples from harvest 2016 made Group 1 specification.” The short growing season means few, if any, opportunities exist to compensate for setbacks which, in turn, puts emphasis on the earliest and best-possible start. This is especially important with spring wheat to minimise competition from blackgrass and avoid the worst effects of gout fly and ergot. Leaving cultivated stubble or a cover crop undisturbed through the winter and drilling with minimal soil movement is the Agrii team’s preferred recipe. Stimulating black-grass seed by moving too much soil at drilling has been shown to reduce Mulika yields by almost 2t/ha at Stow Longa. “Timely glyphosate treatment is essential to eliminate cover crop and weed growth ahead of drilling,” says Jim. “We like to follow up the initial spray to kill any cover with a second application just before sowing or as a pre-emergence treatment to target black-grass previously shielded by the canopy. “Slower glyphosate action at low temperatures makes it important to spray off covers three to four weeks ahead of drilling for best results.” Kill before you drill is also the approach to avoid what can be devastating problems of slugs on heavy ground coming into the spring. Effective rolling after drilling is invaluable, as is achieving the best-possible soil-to-seed contact, Jim says. “Unlike spring barley, you don’t need to wait for the ground to warm up for wheat. So sow it as soon as you have decent seedbed conditions,

the earlier the better,” he adds. Last year three spring wheats in Throws Farm trials averaged 9.34t/ ha from sowing in the first week of February and 7.74t/ha from midMarch. Earlier sowing also produced “noticeably” higher specific weights. “In any event,” says Jim, “you should always sow before April.” As well as making the crop far more vulnerable to gout fly damage, late drilling invariably means extended flowering and far greater opportunities for ergot infection, which can be a greater problem where black-grass populations are high, given the weed’s particular ability to host the disease. Agrii trials show no consistent performance differences between Mulika sowing rates of 350 and 500 seeds/m2. On this basis 400–450 seeds/m2 is considered “about right” under most circumstances, maybe increased to 500 seeds/m2 to maximise competitiveness where black-grass populations are known to be high. On soils prone to manganese deficiency, the Agrii team recommends a quality seed dressing, pointing to responses of more than 0.6t/ha from iMan at 3ml/ kg in 2016 trials in Lincolnshire. It also advocates Take Off

seed treatment and/or the lowtemperature-active PGR Adjust at GS13–21 to provide an early boost to rooting. With the amount of BYDV seen following the recent run of mild winters and the extent to which it can damage later-sown spring wheats in particular, including a pyrethroid with the GS13–21 spray is also recommended, as is extra foliar manganese and zinc where necessary. “Our most recent nutrition work highlights a yield advantage of about 0.5t/ha from 50—60kg/ha of phosphate in the seedbed, either as DAP or TSP,” says Colin. “For the greatest value this should be drilled below the seed rather than surface applied after drilling.” Those without a combination drill, however, would be better off spreading TSP with a specialist phosphate coating, such as P-Reserve to optimise phosphate availability before drilling into it. Agrii has also seen valuable yield responses from a 10.15.21 compound with the phosphorus enhancer Avail. The firm’s work suggests 160–200kg/ha of nitrogen is “quite sufficient”, with 40–70kg/ha applied in the seedbed, depending on sowing date, and the bulk at GS12. ■

Top tips for spring management • Eliminate cover crops and weed growth with glyphosate before drilling • Sow as early as decent seedbeds can be secured, always before April • Drill into well set-up ground, moving the least amount of soil • Maintain good slug control and consolidate seedbeds after sowing • Sow 400—450 seeds/m2, or 500 seeds/m2 on bad black-grass ground • Use a quality manganese seed dressing on deficiency-prone soils • Consider Take Off seed treatment and/or an early PGR as an extra • •

rooting boost Apply 50–60kg/ha phosphate in the seedbed, preferably drilled below the seed Apply 160–200kg/ha nitrogen, 40–70kg/ha in the seedbed and the remainder at GS12

- Feed where it works  1.2T hopper  Stainless steel metering units  Land wheel drive or GPS rate control  2 or 3 row models  Depth wheels control exact depth  Anti blockage system  Side skirts hold soil in bed

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