In this month’s column, BEN BOOTHMAN, from Arable Advisor, in Pickering, looks at winter crops

I feel it’s important to start this month’s column with a huge positive, this is the fourth continuous day without any rain. The future weeks forecast also looks rather settled and with a mixture of frosts we could see the ever-dependable plough and combination duo re-enter the fray.

I have even seen a few of the lesser spotted sprayers nimbly covering some fields, these mainly confined to OSR crops where the recent frosts have strengthened the already existing tramlines.

Even though we are looking at achieving a week without any rain, many fields cultivated or not will still need that whistle for extra time before the cavalry can re-enter.

A constant question keeps coming my way “On my farms what percentage of the planned winter cropping is actually in?”.

Well in my last article I stated about 40 per cent. This has not changed. Unfortunately, not a single ounce of soil has been moved. Out of this total, it’s worth mentioning the variation from a farm-to-farm basis is huge, ranging from completely drilled up to not a grain in the ground. This can even be seen within neighbouring farms and is mainly dictated by soil type.

Early sown wheats are progressing well and have even started to green up after the rest bite from the wet season. Those sown prior to heavy rain are taking an age to emerge and as a result are acting as a never-ending buffet for rooks and slugs.

As expected, the conversation accompanying a warm mince pie and coffee is the topical late drilling of wheat. Providing conditions are good, I would be quite happy with my growers sowing until late in February. Varieties such as Skyfall which have a low vernalisation requirement will fit this slot nicely.

Vernalisation, however, can be a complicated beast, as it is a combination of day length and temperature this can be very seasonal dependent.

It is important to note that drilling late into February can carry some risk of varieties failing to move into the reproductive stage and not producing ears.

Recent trials by NIAB have also shown that kerrin, gravity and siskin also line up well for the late sowing spot.

I would still favour sowing winter wheat in January over its spring counterpart, again more trial data by NIAB (although limited) shows that winter varieties still have the cream over spring varieties.

I’m sure this is welcoming news to many of you readers who each morning open the shed to an Everest of winter wheat seed filling your vision.

As I stated last month the enforced late drilling will give us an opportunity to tackle blackgrass. If this fight is to be successful, the spring crop must be competitive so seed rate and choice of crop are vital.

If the crop is not competitive there will be less black grass plants emerge, but they will have an increased number of heads/m2 due to the reduction in competitiveness. A good establishment of spring barley is one of the most competitive and will be the go to crop when spring drilling starts.

While many believe that us agronomists go into hibernation over the winter months after feasting our body weight in pigs in blankets, the downtime gives us opportunities to attend various technical updates allowing us to start planning for the forthcoming season. Which by the looks of things is going to be interesting.

I will be attending the two-day John Deere Show held by Ripon Farm Services at the Harrogate Showground on January 15 and 16 so if you’d like to come and say hello, just look out for the Arable Advisor banner.

I’d like to end my article with a saying I recently heard in another talk which is very fitting for this challenging autumn/winter, “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished”.