There is still hope of establishing cereal crops

Date published: 27 October 2017

As the wet weather continues, many growers who had hoped to establish winter crops are seeing the window of opportunity rapidly disappearing, particularly for winter barley.

Winter Barley pictured on 24 October showing a successful establishment even though conditions at sowing were less than ideal. This crop was drilled by CAFRE students on 12 October using a one-pass drill.

While this can be frustrating from a management perspective, there is still potential to establish crops should conditions improve and this will help with issues relating to the crop diversification requirements under Greening.


Where the planned rotation contained a mixture of crops which would meet the 2 or 3 crop rules, the current lack of opportunity to establish winter crops may mean rotation options will need careful consideration:

  • Assess the total area in arable production, remember to include grass fields still classed as AR (Temporary Grass).
  • Check the greening guidelines to see if you qualify for an exemption.
  • Where using temporary grass as one of your crops, check that this will not revert to permanent grassland next year. This will happen when the field has been back in grass for more than five years.
  • Remember that winter and spring varieties are classed as different crops, regardless of time of planting.
  • Fallow will also count as a crop type and may be a realistic option in some fields badly tracked at harvest, especially if there is a poor spring.

If conditions improve, some winter crops, especially wheat and oats can be sown at any time during the autumn or winter up to mid to late February. The AHDB recommended list will give latest safe sowing dates for winter wheat varieties, and merchants may be able to give guidance on winter oat varieties. With spring variety seed expected to be expensive, taking every opportunity to drill available winter varieties makes financial sense. 

Minimum Soil Cover

Another issue for those trying to establish winter crop in the current conditions is what happens where a crop cannot be established or establishment fails.  Currently the GAEC 4 states that:-

From harvest until 15 January the conditions below must be met:-

  • The stubble of the harvested crop remains on the land; or
  • (a) the land is sown with a crop which will take up nitrogen from the soil, or
  • (b) where soil or weather conditions prevent subsequent crop from being sown, appropriate measures are put in place to limit soil erosion.

The measures referred to in point (b) are important given the current difficult conditions. Examples of these conditions would be, where you have begun to prepare a seedbed (this includes ploughing), but cannot sow the crop due to poor conditions or where a crop fails to establish as expected.

The appropriate measures referred to may include rough ploughing across the bottom of a slope, leaving rough grass margins where present, or using sediment nets to prevent soil loss to a watercourse. Chisel ploughing can also be used to help unsown seedbeds soak.

Where you still hope to establish winter crops, make sure you are prepared to take advantage of the available windows of opportunity and adjust seed rates to account for lower establishment in the later season.

On a brighter note, while the current conditions have brought wet weather, the milder temperatures have meant that soils are warmer than average for the time of year, so where crops have been drilled, they have established quickly.

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