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One chance to protect establishing crops

With reports of potential seed supply and quality issues following harvest, it will be more important than ever to ensure newly drilled crops get off to a strong start.

With reports of potential seed supply and quality issues following harvest, it will be more important than ever to ensure newly drilled crops get off to a strong start.

That’s the advice of Farmacy’s, Lincolnshire based Phil Vickers, who notes that while there’s talk of a ‘perfect storm’ for slugs developing there’s no room for error in crop establishment this autumn. “We have simply got to get it right first time and the crop away,” he says.

“The last thing we want to be doing is re-drilling. Seed is an extremely valuable commodity, especially this year given the variation in yields and high disease pressure,” believes Phil.

But he warns that slug populations have multiplied rapidly over the summer. Pressure has been horrendous and there is no sign of it tailing off, with barley stubbles absolutely full of slugs at the moment, he reports. “It’s shaping up to be an extremely bad season.”

Adding to this, Phil anticipates winter wheat drilling starting later this autumn – not only as a knock-on effect of a disrupted harvest – but also from a strategic viewpoint. “Later drilled crops have fared much better in terms of disease levels this year which will be a strong motive to delay drillings. It also offers significant benefits for black-grass control.”

“But the increased seed rate needed for these later drilled crops, adds to the expense of establishment – reinforcing the need to ensure we don’t lose the crop. We cannot afford to.”

In oilseed rape, one bite to the growing point of a germinating shoot is enough to kill the plant and thus the crop. If drilling 40 seeds/m2, a loss of 20 or so is a serious problem, but very possible.

He therefore advocates a managed approach to pellet applications, rather than blanket treatments, despite the high slug risk.

“Field by field assessments and on-going inspection needs to be made before any pellets are applied this autumn. It’s going to be vital.”

Drilling date, the condition of the seed bed – the moisture levels – previous field and slug history as well as the seed rate are all factors influencing the field slug-risk, he reviews. 

Establishment method can also have a big impact, with the subsoiler method for oilseed rape presenting the greatest slug risk, especially on heavy land. “In many cases we won’t be able to get seedbeds as finely consolidated as we would like, which won’t help slug control.

Phil believes that growers have still got the tools out there to work with the situation. “In addition to seed treatments we have three molluscicide actives – metaldehyde, methiocarb and ferric phosphate – available to us, and all are very effective.

Whilst metaldehyde stewardship will be a key consideration, Phil notes that over the last couple of years he has gained good experience with ferric phosphate. “We are building confidence all the time. Ferric phosphate (available as Derrex and Sluxx) is proving itself a viable option for broadacre crops without the same risks to water as metaldehyde.

“We know it works very effectively. There is no reason for us to go beyond the guidelines on metaldehyde, we have effective alternatives.”

Phil is emphasising the role of good quality baits this autumn. “We need to ensure we are using the best that is out there. “While ferric phosphate may appear a premium option compared with metaldehyde, you are getting a better pellet and using a quality product will pay off this season,” he believes.