Unpredictable weather seems to be the order of the day at the moment. After what was a very dry and cold April, May has brought about warmer temperatures and a considerable amount of rainfall. At Kings, much of our time had been spent advising growers not to drill wild bird seed and game cover crops too early but given the drastic change in weather, we're now finding that many simply cannot get onto plots because it is too wet.
Now that we are entering the peak planting window from mid-May through to mid-June, I've compiled some timely points of advice to help you make the most of the next four weeks.
What to do while the clock is slowly ticking
It's understandable that current weather conditions will be causing frustration for those preparing plots and planting crops. While the following considerations won't alleviate the challenges at play, I hope they help to inform any decisions or activity you may have planned.
- Conditions now are ideal for getting seedbeds in good order and encouraging a flush of weeds ahead of drilling. You should consider spraying any weeds if you can rather than cultivating them in, especially if they are docks, thistles, or nettles.
- We are still seeing soil temperatures 2⁰C lower than where they should be although this should have improved by next week.
- When the weather does settle, which could be from mid-next week onwards, conditions will be spot on with both moisture and warmth readily available.
- Crops which are drilled and able to hit the ground running will perform better than those left lingering in cold seedbeds waiting for conditions to improve.
- For all of the crop species you are planting, late-May to mid-June is the target drilling date. We are not late yet and it's worth noting that brassica species tend to do much better from a later drilling date versus an early one.
- Most importantly, do not force cultivations or drilling. Waiting an extra day for conditions to improve can result in a better outcome. The extreme cloudbursts we are currently experiencing can do a lot of damage to overworked seedbeds or plots drilled in 'less-than-ideal' conditions.
- Now is the time to be especially grateful for perennials. This year is the kind we are always bearing in mind when advising growers to have crops such as reed canary grass and chicory in place. Not only do they provide valuable year-round habitat but they are a great risk management tool when it comes to the changing climate.
Help your crops get away in good order
When your crops do start to move, it's important to think about the work and management that's required as a result. The list below offers some useful tips:
Check you have everything you need
Whilst it looks like this week is going to provide limited planting opportunities, it is a great chance to check you have the seed, fertiliser, slug pellets, sprays, banger ropes, flags, and anything else you will need for the next six weeks. It is favourable to check now rather than overlook something you may need most.
Just like 'a watched pot never boils', checking crops twice a day can sometimes make it seem like they aren't growing. However, regular monitoring is crucial. Scheduling checks each morning and evening can help to eliminate any challenges and means you can act in a timely manner if needed.
Make every effort to have fertiliser in the seedbed ready to go. This is vital for ensuring germinating seeds have all they need around them to get going quickly.
They'll be ready for a banquet so make sure you have sufficient pellets in stock and are ready to deploy as required. Again, regularly checking crops will help you identify any issues and enable you to deal with them promptly.
Flea beetle is an ongoing concern for brassica and linseed-based crops, but the beauty of crops hitting the ground running in June is that they will tend to grow away from trouble. The insecticides available have a moderate impact on flea beetle so timely drilling into warm, damp, fertile seedbeds is the first line of defence.
One of the biggest challenges for growers across the UK this season is the abundance of remaining game. Please be prepared for game digging up crops because this will be a particular issue this year. We recommend setting up diversionary feeding and again, regular inspections will be important.
The deer population is higher at the moment due to limited opportunities for management in the last year and a low venison price. Deer can and will cause issues to crops so you may need to consider remedial measures to reduce potential damage.
I recommend that you double check fences, ensure gates are shut effectively and that all staff or visitors are briefed on the need to keep them closed.
With a dry, cold spring followed by the recent wet weather, I anticipate the usual silage and hay cuts in your area may be held up. As a result, the local rook and crow populations will be looking for other things to do until the mowers start. Protect all crops but be particularly aware of maize and cereal-based crops.
I'm sure you'll agree there is much to consider but the first six weeks during the establishment phase are critical. With careful preparation and ongoing crop management, you can make sure your crops have every chance to flourish. It's important that those you work with understand your priorities too – a strong, team effort from everyone on the farm or shoot can help to set you up for success.
If you'd like help with anything mentioned above, the Kings team can provide expert guidance to help you get the most from your crop. Please speak to your local advisor or contact us if you require more information.