Spring in spring

It was great to have had that period of spring weather. Crisp days and cold nights keep growth slow but they enable a lot of work to be done, both essential fertilising and spraying. There was an amount of planting done also.

However, a lot of land has been slow to dry out adequately. We must hope that there will not be too much rain in the coming days and that it will not set back ground conditions too much.

Basic fertiliser

Get basic N, P and K applied to all winter crops as soon as possible. Have a plan for sulphur, which can be all up front or using fertilisers containing S throughout the season. Sulphur might not be needed on fresh ground close to ley but it is essential on worn light land that has not been getting organic matter. Target 15-20kg S/ha where it is most needed, with requirement being lower on heavier land and land that has been in frequent receipt of organic manures.

While fertiliser cost could limit usage, that should be avoided. We have been there before. Get P and K applied according to soil test results – if you don’t have a soil test result which is less than four years old, application rates are confined to Index 3 levels. This means 42kg P and 108kg K/ha for an 11t/ha winter wheat or barley crop and 38kg P and 144kg K/ha for 10t of winter oats, all with straw removed. Winter oilseed rape requires 33kg P and 73kg K/ha for a 5t/ha crop while spring barley needs 30kg P and 92kg K/ha for an 8t/ha crop, both with straw removed.

If you have a recent soil test that indicates Index 2 for both P and K, the recommendations for the same yield levels increase to 52kg P and 123kg K for the winter wheat and barley; 48kg P and 159kg K for the oats; 40kg P and 106kg K for the spring barley; 43kg P and 88kg K for the winter rape. If you mine your P and K, yields will begin to slip, making it more difficult to get payback from the fertiliser you will need to apply in the future.

All crops need to have some N applied at this point as some growth is taking place. Advanced crops are likely to be moving into stem extension shortly but there should be no urgent need for the main N splits yet until growth conditions improve considerably.

Spring crops

Much of the beans are now drilled, with barley, wheat and oats going in also. With all crops, fertile soil is better than double-rate fertiliser so replace offtake at a minimum. This is critical on all land but especially on owned land. Good soil fertility needs frequent soil testing and targeted application for nutrients and pH. Building soil organic matter helps nutrient availability and yield potential.

Where possible, put some P and K down the spout as this will always help early growth in an awkward season. For speed of drilling, you might still apply much of the N, P and K into the seedbed for incorporation, while only putting a little down the spout to drive early growth.