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Maximising the Potential of Late Drilled Winter Wheat


The torrid autumn with significantly higher than average rain fall has resulted in winter cereals being drilled over a very wide period. Some growers are still drilling winter wheat in the final weeks of January but it will not be long before they will be forced to make the switch to spring cropping or fallow.

Winter wheat crops are very variable at the moment dependent on drill date, seed bed quality and localised weather. Growers will need to adjust their inputs to maximize the potential of different crops. A large proportion of crops are backwards and therefore, we will take a look at how best to manage these.


Significant over winter rainfall is likely to have resulted in soils with depleted nutrients. Experience has shown that late drilled crops which have not tillered well are likely to respond well to early nitrogen to increase yield potential. An early application can promote tillering, increase leaf size and enhance root development. By optimising nutrition early you can give the wheat a good platform to recover lost yield potential through maximising viable tillers. It is important not to apply more than the crop can utilise at once as excess nitrogen is likely to be lost. Subsequent applications of nitrogen are key for tiller retention and boosting grain protein for crops destined for a quality market.

Ensuring the crop has sufficient phosphate can also improve rooting in crops. Wheats which have been waterlogged over the winter period are likely to have a shallow root structure which puts them at greater risk of spring drought.

Matt Bull, Seeds Technical Manager


Growers and agronomists will need to focus more attention on the agronomy of late-drilled crops to maximise yield and quality. Crops drilled very late, into wet soils at high seed rates are likely to be poorly rooted and competition within the crop may result in taller plots. PGR’s should be used to manage risk accordingly. A number of factors influence the need for a robust PGR program including variety, weather, and soil type to name a few.

Experience has shown that an early PGR at growth stage 30 can have rooting benefits which can help the crop through the remainder of the season. It is important that this approach is only adopted in the right conditions where the crop is actively growing.

Later season PGRs will be key for managing stem lodging risk, particularly in late crops drilled at very high seed rates which may have thinner, taller stems.

See our latest PGR article here. 


Monitoring the weather and a willingness to adapt to different situations will be crucial in the coming months when considering fungicide programmes for late drilled crops. The weather conditions over the next two months will drive the overwintered disease levels and crop growth.

It will be important to monitor each crop on a field by field basis and be prepared to adapt to different disease risks. In particular Yellow Rust could pose an increased threat for late drilled crops. Our advice would be to spray a rust active triazole if yellow rust is seen to be spreading in ANY crop during March , and then follow up with Elatus Era @ T1 (GS32).

Weather and variety choice have a big impact on the risk of Septoria. Should the winter months remain wet & mild, a Septoria outbreak will be more likely and a robust spray programme would be crucial.

With backward crops, growth stages can be affected meaning that spray timings may need to be adjusted according to crop Growth stage, rather than calendar date. Our advice for the coming season is to be adaptive and prepared for any situation and make sure you apply appropriate fungicides preventatively.


Agronomy Issues