DARD Management Notes: Crops

Autumn drilling
Autumn drilling

CEREALS: Hello Leigh McClean here. I am a Crops Technologist based at Greenmount Campus, CAFRE and I am the new writer of the crops management notes.

Monitoring crops in store

With the harvest rush hopefully now mostly past and the focus on establishing winter crops, grain in store is sometimes forgotten about during this busy autumn period. Continue monitoring stored grain to make sure small issues don’t develop into big problems down the line. Weekly monitoring is recommended until both grain moisture and temperature have stabilised. Pitfall or floor traps give an indication of the number of store insects and mites present. These store pests can multiply rapidly in heated grain, therefore early detection is the best way to prevent rising populations and grain spoilage.

Clearing rainwater guttering may have been part of the pre-harvest clean up. However chaff, leaves and straw can block gutters and cause leaks into stores so check and clean as necessary. Inspect rodent bait points regularly. Remove dead bodies and top-up bait boxes making sure they are safely out of reach of non-target animals or birds. Also record the inspection.

Slug monitoring

Slugs have been a constant companion on crop walks this year, no doubt fond of a cool damp summer devoid of prolonged dry periods. Where slugs have previously been a problem, numbers are likely to be high this autumn. Be vigilant, particularly where seedbeds are cloddy, damp and seedling emergence is slow, as damage is most severe under these conditions. Continue to monitor all winter crops until plants are beyond the vulnerable seedling stage. You should note that methiocarb based slug pellets are no longer authorised for use. If using metaldehyde slug pellets follow the metaldehyde stewardship guidelines. More details of treatment options are available on the DARD website www.dardni.gov.uk. Follow the countryside and farming link to the combinable crops page.

Aphid monitoring and virus control

Controlling virus-carrying aphids is crucial to eliminating the cereal virus risk. After emergence, crops are still at risk from winged migrations of aphids throughout the autumn. These migrations are monitored by AFBI and populations are posted weekly on the combinable crops section of the DARD website, along with information on virus vector control through seed dressings and aphicide spray application.

Weed control

For troublesome grass weeds the most effective control is an integrated approach. Even if the window for using stale seedbeds has passed the opportunity still exists to apply pre or early post-emergence herbicides. This is especially important for winter barley as spring herbicide options are limited. Further details are available on the DARD website.


Reducing damage

With the potato harvest ongoing, keep an eye on mechanical damage to tubers. Damage occurs with drops from harvesters into boxes or trailers, bruising caused by insufficient soil on the web, slicing by exposed sharp edges or an incorrect share setup and crushing due to oversize tractor tyres running in the drill bottom or stacking overfilled boxes. Excessive damage often leads to increased problems in store and eventual down-grading of the produce. Early identification of damage is critical. Take daily samples of the harvested crop, wash and inspect for damage. Hot boxing gives a quicker indication if damage has occurred. The entire harvesting team should be made aware of the importance of damage and bruise prevention, as they are often in the best position to identify problem areas.

Drying and curing

Drying potatoes quickly, post harvest, prevents the development of skin blemish diseases and soft rots. Drying within 48 hours using positive ventilation systems significantly reduces the development of diseases such as silver scurf. The curing period immediately following harvest is one of the most important storage phases. Wound healing occurs most rapidly at high temperatures and high humidity. Maintaining the crop at 12 to 15 degrees centigrade and 85 per cent relative humidity for a period of about two weeks, often referred to as ‘dry curing’, allows wound healing to take place, whilst minimising the risk of disease development. Ventilating the store on dry afternoons during the curing period will normally provide adequate curing conditions.