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Challenges Ahead for Spring Planting – The Vegetable Farmer – Andy Richardson

After the fifth wettest autumn and a significantly wetter than average winter, many fields are still at or close to field capacity in mid-March. ...

Andy Richardson of the Allium and Brassica Centre Group therefore advises vegetable growers to try to be patient when planting or drilling spring crops.

But, being realistic, he sees a potential threat to continuity of the supply chain if growers are forced to wait too long.

“Pushing plants and/or seeds into wet, compacted soil is a recipe for disaster,” he says.

“Medium and heavy soils are still very wet inside, so sub-soiling land in its current state is unlikely to be effective. Final cultivations that bring up wet soil are also likely to cause issues as land dries back forming ‘cobbly’ seedbeds”

Most at risk are relatively fast-growing crops, such as broccoli and cauliflower, which are planted sequentially from early March for harvest from June onwards, particularly where UK production has match up with overseas production.

Andy emphasises that over the past few years, growers have recognised the importance of maintaining soil structure and soil fertility, but they are likely to struggle in to do the right thing in this year’s difficult conditions.

“Shallow-rooting crops, such as onions, leeks, cauliflower and broccoli are vulnerable to poor soil structure and we are highly likely to see compaction issues on medium and full-bodied soils resulting in poor crop establishment on affected sites.”

Whether this has any significant effect on ultimate crop maturity, yield and quality is likely to depend upon spring/summer temperatures and rainfall.

However, longer term crops such as cabbage, kale and Brussels’ sprouts, tend to have stronger rooting systems, making them better able to cope with the vagaries of the climate.

Andy continues: “To date we have spring planted/drilled very little in terms of onions/brassicas in comparison with the previous three seasons.”

Crops planted last autumn are somewhat of a mixed bag. March/April maturing overwintered cauliflower generally look OK here in Lincolnshire, however late April/May maturing crops have suffered to a much greater extent and some fields have a significant amount of growing to do.In a similar vein overwintered onion crops planted in October are generally looking good but those planted in November/December are significantly more backward and variable.


Nutrition key to yield and quality

More than ever, this year will all be about attention to detail and tailoring husbandry according to the needs of each particular field, and he advises routinely undertaking soil nutrition analyses before planting to give the crops the best start. “Most growers are used to a certain level of K and N being already in the soil but, with so much rainfall, we are seeing significant reductions in levels when comparing soil samples taken in the autumn to the spring as nutrients have leached down the soil profile.

Andy draws attention to the importance of soil testing for potassium(K) and nitrogen(N) levels in the soil and then following the fertiliser guidelines of RB209. This year, as well having to deal with anaerobic soils, many growers may also have to contend with sulphur, magnesium and a range of micro-nutrient deficiencies, he observes.

“These deficiencies are likely to be more pronounced in a struggling poorly rooting crop.”

He also recommends following local weather data and in-crop soil moisture stations to monitor the crop, enabling inputs to reduce disease pressure and maximise crop yields through accurate irrigation timing.

“By using such simple systems growers have will more time to assess risks and take timely action to protect their crops. All crops will require as much attention to detail as possible, with nutrition and irrigation planning being of paramount importance.”

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