‘Autumn-sown cereals in good condition, prior to first fertiliser application’

Most autumn-sown cereals in Northern Ireland appear to have come through the winter in good condition, according to CAFRE agronomist Leigh McClean.

“Winter barley will be ready for nitrogen and should receive one-third to half of total nitrogen during late tillering, usually before mid-March.

“For winter wheat, a third of total nitrogen before the start of stem extension is sufficient. When dealing with any late drilled, thin or struggling winter crops, sow (spread) nitrogen earlier to encourage tillering.

“For all winter cereals this first fertiliser timing is the ideal time to incorporate at least 20kg sulphur/ha and also the time to top up remaining phosphorus (P) and potassium (K),” he said.

If autumn herbicide was not applied, McClean believes, it’s important to prioritise winter barley, as the few remaining grass weed herbicides effective for this crop only work on small grasses.

“The cut-off dates for latest applications are generally earlier than for winter wheat. Consult product labels carefully for latest application growth stages and dates.

“Due to the relatively mild winter, disease is already active in some earlier-sown lush crops. These crops would benefit from a T0 fungicide providing protection if the T1 spray is delayed,” he added.

Spring Cereals

Where spring cereals are concerned, McClean said there is still time to soil sample fields before spreading slurry or farmyard manure.

Soil sampling is money well spent, as it highlights the P and K status of soils and shows up lime requirements.

“Sow as soon as a good seedbed can be created. Aim for a seed rate between 350 and 400 grains per square metre.

The lower rate should suffice for March-sown barley drilled into a good seedbed, according to McClean, while it may be necessary to increase the seed rate in poorer conditions such as cold, wet or heavy soils or if sowing later.

“In the absence of any chemical control of leatherjackets, following the withdrawal of Chlorpyrifos, pay attention to high-risk spring barley fields where leatherjacket populations are high, particularly old grass leys being ploughed for the first time in many years.

Minimise the risk of damage by drilling into a well cultivated, fine, firmly consolidated and warm seedbed, where the crop can emerge quickly and grow away from the pest.

“Where leatherjackets are known to be a problem, compensate for potential seedling losses with a higher than normal seed rate,” he said.