Oh, the magical month of May! Once the chilly month of April was over, night time temperatures shot up when May Day arrived and the countryside exploded into bloom. Trees came into leaf overnight, the whitethorn blossomed, the winter cereal crops transformed into a wonderful bluey-green colour and the grass took off.

The oilseed rape is in full flower and the aromatic pollen fills the air. May is a beautiful month and the weather has been pleasant with a blend of warm sunshine and soft refreshing rain.

The cool April had its advantages for the cereals, which were too forward coming out of winter. The wheat had a level of septoria, which was held in check until the first timely round of fungicides began towards the end of the month.

Yes, this wet and warm May weather will bring disease, as surely as night follows day, but modern chemistry should be able to take care of it.

We haven’t cut back on nitrogen, but I think we’ve used it more judiciously. At current (high) grain prices, I’ll push yield to its utmost limits. It’s not a time for fluting around with low or reduced inputs, which might be attractive if wheat is below €200/t.

None of this should be taken to mean that I see nitrogen as value – it’s far from it – but crops have real potential this year and with high grain prices, I think it’s the only option.

Excellent buy

Besides, most of our nitrogen was bought last August, which turned out to be an excellent buy, saving tens of thousands. It’s next year that’ll be the problem.

It’s not that I’m particularly smart – I buy every year at that time as it’s usually good value. And you are reading the column of a farmer waffling on about high grain prices and yet one who has 40% of his budgeted wheat harvest forward sold at €244/t dried. I got it badly wrong by underestimating Putin and his Ukrainian onslaught.

Driving through the crops on the sprayer prompted me to review our autumn weed control.

For a long time, we’ve used a Stomp/DFF (pendimethalin/diffufenican) mix, which I now regard as totally inadequate. I used the herbicide Tower (which is good old chlortoluron plus pendimethalin/DFF) on the winter barley and it’s so much cleaner with no grass or wild oats.

But this is missing the point to some degree. A spring-applied wheat herbicide like Pacifica Plus is more useful as annual meadowgrass and wild oats are very well controlled, and are additionally useful to suppress sterile brome.

Brome is a problem in a few fields this year, one of which could have been avoided if I had blown out the combine properly after finishing an infested field.

It will have to be in spring cropping for a year or two to get it under control. We’ve spot sprayed with Roundup in some of these fields where it is practicable.

The March-sown spring barley has been sprayed with herbicide (but no aphicide) and looks well. The April-sown crop after grass is slower, but it’s all there. Interestingly, the only emerged broadleaf weed in it so far is volunteer oilseed rape, despite the fact that the field has been in grass since 2009.

Wild oat seeds could also have survived in the soil as well, so it’ll get a sniff of Axial Pro in due course.

Now, I’m off to sow wildflowers on a headland that we will leave as an uncropped margin. Mrs P tells me that Aldi have boxes of them, but I think I’ll stick with Drummonds and have them mixed with a fescue-type grass seed mix to suppress brome and other weeds.