Weather: As we push into the second half of December, it looks like 2020 will be on the wetter side of average, despite the dry start. Most areas have already received, or more than received, their 30-year average rainfall but some stations around north Leinster are a bit dryer. However, it certainly has not been a dry backend, even though many areas had received high rainfall as we entered the last quarter of the year.

Temperature continues to be low and that should stabilise any aphid threats for the time being. While the risk never really goes away, especially in high-risk situations, it is more manageable when temperatures are well down. The risk of transmission should certainly be low but there is always a small risk of spread within fields if we get mild spells.

Field work: Opportunities to plant are very unlikely from now on and perhaps should not even be taken should they arise. The risks are so much higher at this time of year and costs are too high to justify the risk.

There may be an occasional opportunity to spray oilseed rape with propyzamide-based products but other more specific herbicides might be best left for more active growth.

Walk crops: It might be cold and damp but that does not mean that problems are not occurring. Most crops seem to be in good enough condition and patchiness does not seem to be a significant problem so far. Take a walk through all crops over the next few days ahead of the Christmas break. There may not be much you can do but if you only had three patches with slugs, a few pellets from a bucket might stop the problem.

Winter barley crops vary between GS22 and GS24, with quite a difference in the canopy bulk between the two stages. Most crops have kept a relatively uniform colour so far but that could change if conditions get mild and crops try to grow again. There are little bits of disease about but nothing to worry about for the moment.

Winter wheat is a bit more variable and generally not nearly as bulky. Crops vary from the two- to three-leaf stage through to two- to three tillers (GS23) per plant. There are no reports of significant disease yet.

Soil testing: The importance of soil testing cannot be over-emphasised. However, it is important to be aware that a soil test is at its most reliable when pH is up above 6.5. So, get pH corrected before you spend a lot of money on P or K applications as you will assess your fertility better when your lime status is good. Accurate soil test results help provide access to the resources you already have in your soils.

Get soil tests done and up to date in the coming weeks before things get busy again.

A soil test is only valid for four years and an out-of-date test defaults to Index 3 allowances. This means maintenance P or K levels only, so you cannot legally act to increase soil fertility if you do not have up to date test results. Also, you must have a soil test for every 5ha farmed so 100ha needs a minimum of 20 test results.