CROPS WATCH UPDATE: The importance of boron for beet crops

In the fifth part of the Crops Watch series – a collaborative crop monitoring programme between AgriLand, TerraChem and Nolan Farming – we assess the progress of sugar beet and winter wheat crops.

We visited John Mulhare’s farm where he is growing a crop of sugar beet, which will be used as a fodder source for livestock. The variety grown is Enermax.

The crop is sown in a rotation of beet, winter wheat (for seed) and winter barely. The crop’s phosphorous and potassium requirements were applied last autumn in the form of farm-yard manure (FYM) and pig slurry.

To add further organic matter and to catch the nutrients over the winter months, forage rape was sown by means of eco-tilling.

In the fourth part of the Crops Watch series, Mulhare discussed the herbicide programme used on the crop, which included a split T1 spraying programme.

As previously planned, the final herbicide application was applied 10 days after the second T1 split, to what could only be described as a spotlessly clean field.

Mulhare sees this as the best approach rather than waiting too long for a subsequent weed flush to emerge.

As the beet canopy spreads, the leaves create a shading effect over the soil, restricting the ability of the sprayer to get a full seal across the entire soil surface with the final herbicide application.

“And this can often be the cause of a lot of late-germinating weeds getting up through the crop in July,” Mulhare said.

The spray applied was Betenal MAX Pro (1.5L/ha), Goltix (1.5L/ha), Venzar Flowable (0.5L/ha) and Super Rapeeze Oil (1L/ha).

Adding Venzar Flowable to the final spray has proven useful as it broadens the spectrum where weeds such as knotgrass may be an issue.

In addition, due to an attack of mangold fly and to prevent black bean aphid, Dimethoate was included at a rate of 0.2L/Ha.

Nutrition

Seven days after the herbicide application, around the six-eight true leaf stage, the crop received its dedicated nutrient spray of Manganese ALOY (1L/ha), SulfaMag ALOY (2L/ha), Bortrac 150 (3L/ha) and Uplift (5L/ha).

While rates of manganese and magnesium were chosen specifically to suit the field in question, Mulhare has adopted the approach of driving the crop with foliar applications of trace elements and Uplift for some years now to great effect.

In my opinion, most crops should receive 6-9L/ha of boron over the season to minimise any risk of sub-clinical crown rot.

“It’s critical in a year like this where the recent rain and heat is driving growth wild, as often the plant cannot get boron out of the soil fast enough to meet the demand of the growing root.

“While the rates of manganese and magnesium may vary field-by-field, boron is always a safe bet with a beet crop – you won’t over do it,” the TerraChem Crop Protection Specialist said.

Managing wild oats and scutch grass

Stratos Ultra was also included at 1.5L/ha to remove any wild oats. Some 3L/ha was applied to the outside boom section of the headland to knock back any scutch encroaching from the margins.

“It’s only a small bit more effort to do this bit of fine tuning, but my contractor is excellent and it means that the scutch rarely gets a hold on the body of the field. It’s been over ten years since I sprayed a field for scutch,” Mulhare said.

The TerraChem Crop Protection Specialist also said that nutrition and soil health are key to every crop.

“I’m particularly fortunate that I have an ample supply of FYM to grow my beet.

“I may be spending around €40/ac on foliar feeds and trace elements, but my chemical fertiliser costs are below €40/ac. At an average yield of 30t of washed beet per acre – I’m happy at that,” he added.

Winter wheat

John Mulhare and Kevin Nolan, of Nolan Farming, also looked at a crop of winter wheat growing on Kevin’s farm.

The variety examined was Lilly, which is not as prone to mildew as Avatar. It was looked at in the third part of the Crops Watch series.

On the day of filming, Kevin was applying the final fungicide application to one of his fields of Lily.

Despite earlier concerns over disease at the base of the crop in early spring, the strong fungicide programme and the lack of rainfall in April has generated a canopy of four extremely clean leaves with regards to septoria tritici.

Another of Kevin’s varieties, Avatar, is far more susceptible to septoria and mildew. However, those crops are also in good condition with only 5-15% septoria tritici showing on leaf four.

The final fungicide application was planned by Mulhare last spring and it remains unchanged from the original programme envisaged. It consists of Prosaro (1L/ha) and Credo (1L/ha).

Though, for many people, strobs have lost favour at T3 due to fusarium resistance, trials from 2016 showed an average yield response of 0.44t/ha on the variety Avatar.

Gains of up to 0.67t/ha were also recorded where the T3 application was switched from Prosaro and Bravo to Prosaro and Credo (1L/ha). Credo contains the 1L of Bravo plus an additional 0.4L/ha of Picoxystrobin (Galileo).

“Given these economic returns, it would be foolish to turn our backs on using the likes of Credo at T3 just yet,” Mulhare said.

An additional product being used by Kevin at the T3 stage this year is Terrachem’s adjuvant – Siltex.

Designed specifically for use with head sprays, trials in 2016 on spring barley showed yield responses of up to 0.83t/ha on spring barley where Siltex was included with the head spray fungicide.

Given recent wet weather, and recalling the devastation reeked on winter wheat crops in 2012 by fusarium in the ears, Mulhare’s approach is to make every effort to maximise yield/ha by using all of the available and appropriate tools in the input armory.

“My view is very simple,” said Mulhare.

“Farmers are in this to make money, plain and simple. And though most of the current talk is all about cutting costs, I think it’s vital we understand the difference between costs and investments when choosing our input programme.

“If you want to be the man who can stand at the pub counter next September and boast about reducing your input bill by 20% versus 2016 – that’s fine if that’s what you feel is important.

I would prefer if you were standing at the counter and could say you increased your profits by 20%.

“I can’t guarantee that will happen if you follow the kind of programme myself and my fellow TerraChem staff advocate.

“But we always strive to put together programmes that will do everything possible to maximise the grower’s return on investment; even where that involves advocating the use of an input distributed by a company other than ourselves.

“As in the case of Grassland AGRO’s Liquid fertiliser that we used on Kevin’s Quadra this season.

“All levels of the agricultural production chain seek to make money, but if we can’t keep the growers in profit there will be no business for any of us,” he added.

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