Top Tips to Manage Your Autumn 2020 Drilling

With confidence in drilling dented following last years awful autumn, growers can do much to gain control this season by planning sowing logistics and playing varieties to their strengths, says KWS product development manager John Miles.

“By all accounts we’ve got a challenging growing season ahead of us with industry commentators predicting high levels of wheat drilling, the memory of last year colouring growers’ decisions and leftover seed from last year further complicating matters.

“The most important decisions need making now and many of these revolve around what to grow, with these increasingly being based around individual growing conditions and matching seed choices to these.

“Don’t forget, 80% of the crop production results you see are down to the seed choices you make. You can fine-tune this with agronomy and nutrition, but fundamentally the potential of your crop is locked in with seed you drill.

“The other important area to consider revolves around balancing varieties so you can play each to its strengths whilst having a broad range of functional traits and characteristics on-farm to help with weed control, disease management, workload and, ultimately, marketability.”

Growers wishing to gain control of their drilling this autumn should therefore focus on six key areas, he believes.

1. Don't be tempted to drill too early

Don’t be panicked into drilling earlier to try and avoid a repeat of the backlog many growers experienced at the end of the 2019 drilling season, John Miles advises.

“Early drilling presents the risk of additional disease pressures such as a Septoria which can have consequences later in the season, not to mention blackgrass and BYDV, so you must try and stick to your usual drilling dates. If you usually start drilling in early October then aim for that.

“Many modern varieties are particularly well suited to later drilling compared to those from just a few years ago and these reduce the disease risk considerably.

“Before blackgrass, growers routinely drilled in the third week of September to maximise tiller numbers and build the canopy architecture needed to achieve high yields. But today

growers have a good choice of varieties that are ideally suited to later drilling.

“We’re now seeing 10t/ha plus yields from December or January sown wheat after beet, for example, so there’s no longer the yield penalty seen previously with later drilling.”

2. Plan your drilling logistics

Focusing on drilling resilient varieties and matching them to their optimum sowing slots is increasingly important, he says.

“With the advances in genetics recently and the range of options now available, planning drilling based on varietal strengths and characteristics can help you sequence them to optimal advantage.

“Your first variety should be one with good early-drilled performance - stiff strawed, early harvest types like KWS Parkin or KWS Firefly suit this slot perfectly. You can then use follow-on varieties strategically depending on the biggest threats you face.

3. Think about blackgrass

Delaying drilling is has proven to be the single best thing you can do to combat blackgrass and still stay reasonably profitable, John Miles says.

“The best varieties to optimise blackgrass control are those that establish well when sown later and cover the ground quickly so no room is left for weed growth.

“High tillering varieties that create a nice carpet and that are vigorous in the spring to steal a march on the blackgrass are also beneficial. A good canopy will extend weed competition throughout the whole of the season.”

4. Maximise disease resistance

Once your first drillers have been established, varieties can be chosen to maximise disease resistance, he points out.

“A variety like KWS Extase in the second slot, with its Septoria resistance score of 8.1 and untreated yield of 10.6t/ha in the 2020/21 RL, can be used as a tool to protect against septorial load and reduce the risk of the disease pressure on your farm, significantly.”

This has the added bonus of giving growers a variety that gets away quickly in the spring and holds this lead to harvest, but it also enables them to take advantage of some of the highest yielders for the later drilling spots, he adds.

Don’t forget, 80% of the crop production results you see are down to the seed choices you make. You can fine-tune this with agronomy and nutrition, bu
John Miles, KWS Product Development Manager

5. Plan varieties to manage workload

Adding a greater range of varieties will also help with day-to-day management and workloads, John Miles explains.

“increasing pressure on sprayers due to weather and workload means most growers generally aim to be able get all their wheat sprayed in 2-3 days.

“If you have a large area of just one variety with a specific window for certain applications, that puts a lot of pressure on you and you’ll probably have other things that need doing on those same days, as well.

“Apart from routine applications, if something unexpected happens and you need to get the sprayer out, you’re left with a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

“More varieties should mean a better spread of growth stages which mean you can manage your workload much better and sequencing your inputs in an optimal manner has got to be one of the most effective ways to maximise profitability.”

6. Avoid high input spends

If you don’t grow a top yielding Group 4 like KWS Kerrin you’re missing out on the highest yield performance, John Miles says.

“Many of the highest yielding varieties on the RL have a Septoria score of under six. They should not be written off because of this. by drilling them in the lower risk slots from Mid October onwards you have reduced the Septoria risk while still benefiting from their very high yield potential and competitive growth habit.

“If you want a milling wheat in this position, especially in the second wheat slot, then KWS Zyatt would be a good choice. It’s got a strong Septoria resistance which is useful for mitigating risks.”

7. Think about harvesting when you drill

Sequencing the drilling correctly also helps plan the harvesting, he adds.

“With a range of varieties reaching maturity at different times you can spread your combining more evenly ideally so just as your finishing one block the next one is ready.

“As well as reducing the chance that all your crop becomes ready at the same time, it’s a much better approach than having to chase all over the place trying to find crops that are fit before you might loose optimum quality and yield.”

8. Be careful with leftover seed.

Integrating leftover seed into a sequenced drilling programme will need careful thought, he adds.

“Many farms have quite a bit of undrilled seed and will be looking to use it this coming autumn but you do need to be careful with this not just to make sure it achieves the required level of germination, but also where it fits in with your drilling programme.

“Some of the varieties being held over are unsuitable for early drilling as they are likely to have been bought for late October to November drilling as part of a blackgrass strategy.

“A variety with a 5 for Septoria drilled in mid to late September, for example, could run into all sorts of problems if conditions are mild and this could lead to a large crop harbouring a lot of disease.

“The best advice is to find out what the properties of the seed you have leftover are and then work with your seed specialist or agronomist to work out the best way you can incorporate this into your plans.