The first thing to say is that as I write this I am on the west coast of America, which is currently one of the safer places to holiday in the world. This is something the Americans appreciate, with many of them very nervous about leaving their own country for anything but business.
As a light aside, when we arrived in San Diego we were repeatedly asked if we qualified as senior citizens to which we said no, not realising that you qualify as a senior citizen at 55. But by the time we reached San Francisco it had gone back up to 65. Back home I am sure we will be thinking of 70 as the qualifying age by the time it applies to me. Something else of interest is the vast popularity of craft beers from small micro breweries. Most bars have a range and in one San Diego museum there was a whole section devoted to the subject – although the fact they had got the labelling of barley and wheat round the wrong way was not going to help their students very much. Still, it would gladden Tony Redsell’s heart to know they could identify hops and were extolling the virtues of hop producers around the world and in particular the UK.
Before I left home at the end of April, rainfall topped 50 millimetres – the ninth consecutive month to beat average rainfall in north Kent. At the beginning of May crops were certainly a good 10 days behind. But with a few days of very warm temperatures how things moved on and the oilseed certainly needed to. Flowering had been very slow and the nightly frosts were simply preventing viable pod set. So there was an almost crop saving turn around with crops looking the part for the first time this spring.
Bloom sprays were suddenly worth doing and with the lift in oilseed rape prices, this is a sounder investment. Whether it is a one or two spray programme remains to be seen as a short flowering season may occur if crops are to catch up fully, in which case a single spray may yet do. The caveat is the spread of growth caused by the pigeons and it may just be easier to spray twice, covering the variability in many fields.
Similarly wheat has moved on with the need to get T1 fungicides on – although in many cases it looks as if the cold weather has done a measure of growth regulation, most especially where we have applied grass weed actives. Two things are noticeable. Firstly the presence of low levels of barley yellow dwarf virus infection where autumn post emergence aphicides were not applied in good time, or not at all, in which case levels are considerably higher. While it is something we have seen following previous wet autumns when the solution seemed to be Deter seed dressings, this year they have not lasted long enough with the very mild autumn prolonging aphid migration until nearly Christmas. For second wheats perhaps it is time to consider adding Deter as well to ease the pressure on autumn aphicide applications when time seems to be so very short in the run of wet autumns we are trying to cope with.
Secondly is the reappearance of disease, particularly rust, on strong early crops of wheat even after robust T0 sprays. It is mainly in Claire which leads me back to my comment in an earlier article that perhaps we are seeing the demise of one of the older varieties on the recommended list. There is no doubt it currently shows poorly against newer alternatives. It does mean we are using robust T1 sprays and we will not be penny pinching on fungicide applications this year.
As I have previously said wheat growth stages for the earlier crops always see flag leaves around 20 May and it will be no different this year as they are catching up quickly. The time gap will be less than the spray coverage. But with disease pressure an underlying problem I think it is going to be vital to cover the flag leaves as they emerge and maintain that cover. While wheat prices are still in the doldrums they have lifted from the lows at Christmas. And while that may be in large part currency driven and involve the uncertainty of the European Union referendum, it has certainly helped with forward sales and emphasises the need to maximise the potential of good looking wheat crops. We will have to see where the currency market takes commodity prices post 23 June.
The better growing conditions have certainly helped the spring crops and while they are late, again they will catch up. We certainly do not want to fall into a drought as per last spring but that does not look to be the case at the moment and the potential for at least average yields looks to be developing.
I mentioned the underpayment of our basic payment last month. While we certainly were in a far better position for having been paid the majority of the claim, the outstanding sum and penalty are not inconsequential and the supposed loss of entitlements from not being used is another complication. Writing to the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) has not produced any response at all and correspondence sent by local MPs has elicited the reply that all applications have been paid in full – or anyone in the difficult category can have a 50% bridging payment. That is at best disingenuous. For those in the bridging payment category many also have issues with underpayment, so they do not even have 50% in the bank.
Whenever Mark Grimshaw, head of the RPA, speaks he always refers to farmers as the RPA’s customers. Well we have every right to expect better service. I have no issue with the staff who answer the phones as in my experience when you finally get through they always do their best to help.
However, Grimshaw knew that when he took the job of sorting out the mess from the last reform of the common agricultural policy that it could be challenging and here we are in a mess of Grimshaw’s own making. My view is that someone should be culpable and reading the environment, food and rural affairs committee’s report it would seem finally that there is a will in government to hold the RPA and Mark Grimshaw to account – and none too soon.