Great drying: While it was not quite a beast from the east, the weather over the past week proved to be more useful than troublesome for most.

That bitterly cold wind did wonders in terms of drying up land and enabled a lot of ploughing. There was also a bit of spring barley planted in places, and the speed at which some land can go from wet to workable continues to amaze.

That said, some areas did get messed up with snow and rain, but hopefully weather will continue to be mainly dry as we move into the time for nitrogen application and early planting on lighter land.

While most crops still show no need for urgent nitrogen, it is possible that the milder conditions of recent days may bring enough growth to force crops to look hungry and show signs of yellowing, especially in winter barley.

With limited growth about, it may be beneficial to get some nitrogen out onto more backward winter crops that need to make a bit of additional spring growth. Big amounts of N are not needed until we get active growth.

Fertiliser: It is time to get compound fertiliser out onto winter crops. The choice of product would normally be driven by soil fertility levels and the need for sulphur, but a general unavailability of fertiliser currently may constrain options.

It is more important to get some form of fertiliser on by the start of growth than delaying application to wait for the ideal product. Fertiliser has become expensive again, so it is important to make good use of it.

As always, rape and barley are the main priorities. With barley, it may be best to not let crops go yellow and forward crops will be most prone. This may mean from 30 to 60kg N/ha, depending on how forward your crop is and when you can travel. Also consider a small dressing of 25-30kg N/ha on backward wheat or oats crops to help them fill out.

Rape is more complex because of the need to control canopy size and to target a green area index of around 3.5 at the start of stem extension. Green area index, measured at the end of February, provides the best guide as to the amount of nitrogen needed to produce this canopy. I indicated how to do this assessment in recent weeks.

In terms of P and K, a 10t/ha crop of winter barley with straw removed will need 38kg P/ha plus 98kg K/ha on an Index 3 soil to meet its offtake requirements. In the same field, a 5t/ha crop of winter oilseed rape requires 33kg P/ha and 73kg K/ha, while an 11t/ha winter wheat crop will require 42kg P/ha and 108kg K/ha.

Planting: There is some planting of beans and spring cereals taking place. Aim to establish 30-35 plants/m2 for spring beans. Seed rate will then depend on likely establishment, germination, and seed size. To plant 35 seeds/m2 would require 179kg/ha at 460g/1,000 seeds, 203kg at 520g, 226kg at 580g and 250kg at 640g/1,000 seeds.

Wheat and barley might be planted at up to 350 to 370 seeds/m2 – roughly 160 to 170kg/ha (10-11 st/ac) for 45g seed.