The 2013 oilseed rape (OSR) harvest is expected to be one of the smallest on record and is continuing to generate concerns over quality and yield.
The inclement weather conditions that delayed last year’s sowings could likewise result in concerns over increasing slug populations.
As 2013 OSR crops are being lifted later than normal, farmers face the prospect of having to drill 2014 crops immediately after harvest, instead of having a crop-break period to help deter slug populations.
Farmers are now being urged to ensure appropriate pest control measures are included due to the ground conditions.
The see-saw weather conditions that resulted in the wettest spring in over 100 years, followed by prolonged sunshine and drought conditions, has in the past few weeks been followed by heavy showers, leading to increasing levels of slug attacks.
Establishing crops in vulnerable conditions may result in early seed-beds being decimated, according to Northumberland farmer and contractor Chris Anderson.
“Good soil condition and structure is extremely important,” he said.
“Any crops sown in poor soil structures are at an increased risk from slug populations.
“Slugs are more active in poorly-drained soil conditions and this can be the result of the structure not being rested or adequately maintained and not having time to repair.
“A lot of farmers will want to drill crops immediately post harvest rather than run the risk of not being able to plant crops for a second autumn running.”
Mr Anderson, who also operates a private grain-store and drier at Broomhill Farm, near Amble, says OSR has run better than expected, with crops yielding in the region of 1.7tonnes per acre.
However, some farmers have not been as fortunate and yields have been lower than normal.
The concern now is whether farmers are able to get spring barley crops harvested in order to re-sow with OSR.
“Given a lot of farmers were unable to sow barley and wheat crops in the autumn of 2012, several had to reseed their crops or sow spring varieties,” he said.
“Getting their 2013 crops harvested and ready for sowing this autumn, may prove difficult. Over the next few days and weeks, the weather will determine progress.
“Many farmers will want to drill straight away and this year, there are a large number of slugs in the soil.
“After the recent spell of rain, there is still a lot of moisture in the soil and slug populations have the potential to eradicate the emerging new crop.”
Mr Anderson believes farmers should think carefully about their choice of slug pellet control.
Quality slug pellets, based on ferric phosphate, will provide high quality, reliable control and repairing soil structure prior to sowing is also important as poor soil condition will reduce air and water movement.
“These conditions can result in field run-off, which has implications for the use of metaldehyde-based slug pellets, and the active ingredient can sometimes be found in watercourses,” Mr Anderson said.
“Near-to-surface crop residues are another slug concern, especially when a new crop is being established.
“Direct drilling and reduced tillage techniques may result in greater levels of the crop residue residing near the surface.
“As a result, this can provide slugs with a large fodder source.
“Traditional ploughing methods and seedbed preparation will, however, bury the residue deeper.
“If the land is subsequently rolled in order to consolidate the seed bed, this will further help reduce slug activity amongst germinating seeds.”