Last month I was concerned at the lack of rain delaying sowing and germination of rape and cover crops. What a change a month can bring. We are now anxiously watching the forecasts to see if a gap in the unsettled weather will let us get the wheat in! I am relieved to see that despite the minor floods on the roads, which the succession of Atlantic depressions have brought, there are no puddles standing on the land which we have to drill or on the land which has been cultivated to stand rough over winter for spring crops. Maybe Luke’s Little Summer will appear over next weekend. (St. Luke’s Day is Friday 18th October and often brings a spell of fine weather.)
We have been concerned about our oil seed rape crop this year since mid-August when we were delayed by the previous spring barley crop being late to harvest. Dry weather in early September put further stress on the crop and delayed germination with the result that cabbage stem flea beetle have been busy eating the seedlings as they emerge. The insecticides which are available to combat this pest are only partially effective as thy will only kill the beetles the spray lands on and the beetles are partially resistant to pyrethroids. We have come to the conclusion that the rape plants that are left are unlikely to give us an economic crop and we will have to abandon it. No farmer likes to admit to a crop failure but I am assured that this year we are far from alone in losing our rape. The combination of the rain and the sun at the wrong time and the pesky flea beetle have beaten our best efforts. We are probably going to re-sow the fields with beans as long as we can find some seed.
The frustrating part of this sorry tale is that, with the same weather conditions three years ago, the crop would have been ok. In those days the seeds would have had a neonicitinoid seed dressing which would have protected them from the beetle. The same family of chemicals we used to protect wheat and barley and sugar beet against serious virus diseases spread by aphids in the crops. Watch out for yellow patches appearing in these crops over the next few years. For the first time for quite a while the nation will not produce enough rapeseed to supply itself with its requirement for oil. The missing tons will probably come from Canada or Australia, both of which have not banned neo nic products. Some of it may well be G.M.
Before the ban we were being bombarded with horror stories of the damage neonics were doing to our pollinating insects, particularly bees. we have had three chemical free years now. Have our pollinators perked up? Are beekeeper’s hives overflowing with honey and loads of spare queens looking to establish new colonies? If not, why not? I would like to apologise to all our local beekeepers for failing to grow a crop which would have produced a lot of pollen for them. I hope all the reed buntings and dunnocks which would have nested in the crops find alternative homes. And possibly the most unfortunate side affect , the loss to our struggling population of Turtle Doves of huge quantities of spilt seed which would have fattened up chicks and adults for the long journey back to Africa.