More spring-sown crops predicted on farms in the East of England

Dr Zoe Rutterford of ProCam.

Dr Zoe Rutterford of ProCam. - Credit: Archant

Eastern England could see a surge in the planting of spring crops in 2017, a crop adviser in the region is predicting.

According to Dr Zoe Rutterford of agronomy firm ProCam, farmers in the East have already been steadily increasing the proportion of spring-sown crops in rotations over recent years, as they struggle to control the pernicious weed of black-grass in autumn-sown crops.

However, big problems getting oilseed rape crops to establish properly this autumn on many farms are set to prompt an even bigger swing towards spring cropping this season, she predicts, which will bring both challenges and benefits.

“Establishing oilseed rape this autumn has been a real headache for many farmers,” says Dr Rutterford.

“That’s partly because of the increasing pest problem of cabbage stem flea beetle, which has been attacking young oilseed rape plants, but also partly because of a localised lack of rainfall during August and September.

“Some farmers have had to pull up failing oilseed rape crops. So other crops – such spring barley, spring wheat or beans – are most likely to take their place.

“Replacing failed winter oilseed rape crops this season is another financial blow for our region’s farmers, because oilseed rape can deliver a good margin in rotations at a time when produce prices across the board remain desperately low.”

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The silver lining, says Dr Rutterford, is that spring crops tend to be more affordable to grow, as they require fewer inputs.

Also, on farms where spring cropping has been increased there have been visible reductions in black-grass populations – particularly where two years’ of spring crops have been grown, such as spring cereals followed by spring beans or peas.

“A key benefit of spring crops compared with winter crops is that more black-grass can be controlled through the winter while the land remains fallow, ahead of the spring sowing,” says Dr Rutterford.

“Furthermore, black-grass that does germinate in spring tends to produce fewer seeds, because it has less time to grow. I’ve heard of people counting as many as 200 heads of seeds on a single black-grass plant in a winter crop, whereas I have yet to see anything like that in a spring crop.”

However, Dr Rutterford is concerned that where farmers are delaying planting until spring, it remains an anxious time if soils remain saturated after winter rainfall. But this can be partly alleviated by carrying out primary land cultivations before winter sets in, she adds.

“Creating a seedbed early, ready to accept the spring crop, will also encourage any black-grass seeds present to germinate, so they can be killed off before spring planting gets underway,” she says.