Adding placed phosphate fertiliser to seed beds at time of planting will help boost root development in newly established cereal crops.

Ben Haste, an East Anglia-based agronomist with Farmacy said: “This is particularly so in cases where crops are drilled into cold, wet seed beds at this time of the year.”

The company supplies a wide range of tillage advice to arable farmers in the UK.

“When seed beds contain large quantities of straw, nitrogen can also be temporarily immobilised,” he explained.

Significantly, this is a scenario currently unfolding for those Irish farmers who signed up for the Tillage Incentive Scheme earlier this year.

Large quantities of chopped straw are being incorporated into the seed beds in preparation for the planting of winter barley, wheat and oats crops.

While the opportunity to sow winter barley has passed, to all intents and purposes, the prospect of significant winter wheat acreages being established over the coming weeks remains significant.

According to Haste, adding a small amount of concentrated, placed phosphate to the soil directly below the level of the seed at planting is the key objective.

“This means that new roots are growing into a zone of readily available phosphate. This will further boost root growth,” he said.

“Most one-pass systems can be set up to allow for the separate placement of seed and fertiliser at time of planting.”

Another option is to apply foliar phosphate to newly established crops at the three-to four-leaf stage.

“The product can be mixed with the insecticide used to keep Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus at bay. The applied phosphate will cost €25/ha,” Haste added.

“There will be an opportunity to apply a second liquid phosphate application in the spring, as air and ground temperatures start to rise.”

Cereal seed beds

According to the Suffolk-based agronomist, coating seeds with fertiliser is not a practical option.

“Phosphate is a critically important nutrient for all crops as they establish that all important root network,” he continued.

“Phosphate indices can be misleading. They reflect the amount of total nutrient in the soil. However, the amounts of phosphate actually available to growing plants can be considerably lower than these values.

“I am not advising the blanket addition of phosphate to all seed beds.

“However, given the current scenario of cold, water-logged soils and the fact that October is drawing to a close, it’s a crop management option that individual growers should consider.”

Haste confirmed that cereal growers in the east of England managed to get about 95% of their planned winter barley acreages planted out over recent weeks.

“Approximately 60% of winter wheats have been drilled up to this point,” he explained.

“The planting of winter wheat can continue on until the middle of January.”