Crop development

November 2023


The winter cereals and oilseeds crop year, planted for the 2024 harvest has got off to a turbulent and precarious start, with a few casualties already because of extremely heavy rainstorms in many areas.

The rain has been less persistent than in 2019, the last year when poor weather hampered drilling in a national and significant way. However, the intensity of rain this year in some regions left some growers with problems they have not experienced for several years. A lot will now depend on the weather conditions of the remaining autumn planting, winter and indeed spring growing periods. This is the case for most winter cereals and oilseed crops, but particularly wheat.

The information in this report was captured up to Thursday 9 November 2023 for AHDB by The Andersons Centre. Key differences between crops are explored below, discussed in the order they are generally planted with more detail in the full report.

Winter oilseed rape

Being the earliest autumn combinable crop to be drilled, winter oilseed rape (WOSR) was mostly well established before experiencing any heavy rain on a widespread or intense nature.

The earliest drilled oilseed rape overall is in good condition nationally. Summer was not particularly hot or dry (short of a few days). So, the crop had a chance for the roots to develop and for canopies to cover over, developing resilience to the heaviest of rains and subsequent pest issues. A few growers have reported their early drilled WOSR being too far forward, and some have acted to slow its growth ahead of winter.

This year, as usual, a large proportion of the crop was drilled over the August bank holiday weekend, which was followed by the one, very hot week of the year. For some, where seedbeds were poorer, there was insufficient moisture to establish properly. Being small, the seeds are planted in shallow soil. As a result, for a short period, they are vulnerable to a lack of moisture and heat stress until their roots have started to develop and draw water from the soil below.

The main Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle (CSFB) migration period also occurred at this time, and these struggling tiny plants were not strong enough to resist their impact. As a result, many regions have considerable areas of WOSR either written off or in poor condition.

The UK had a wet summer, but with generally warm nights. This is ideal for both slugs and CSFB proliferation, which has been heavier than usual and certainly worse than last year. Most recovered but some areas failed at this point.

Generally, WOSR that was planted after the hot weather at the end of August / start of September, i.e., late planted, has developed much better as there was more moisture and less CFSB pressure. But the weather being considerably colder, hampered the speed of root and shoot development, whilst encouraging slugs to proliferate. These later-planted crops are not as far forward as they should be.

It is clear that more WOSR will be written off than usual, with some reports suggesting that as much as a fifth of crops in some regions may not make it to harvest. The current waterlogged fields mean that there is likely to be an increase in write offs, though this also depends on weather conditions over the winter.

Winter barley

Most winter barley was drilled in reasonable conditions. As a result, the majority looks quite good. Crops drilled later, after a grassweed flush or on heavier, wetter soils are not faring so well and are struggling with the wet.

Much winter barley has recently turned a concerning yellowy colour, because the wet conditions mean barley roots are sitting in water, curtailing their growth. This is fairly typical of winter barley in winter and most agronomists expect it to pull through though. Wet conditions can affect yield if root growth does not restart but for short periods, the discolouration is relatively harmless. In this condition though, barley will not cope well with persistent waterlogged soil all winter or possible dry conditions in the spring as root structure and biomass will be harmed.

Should soils stay wet all winter, it will delay the all-important biomass development of roots. This is the same for all winter crops. Under such conditions, the final yields of the crops will be affected.

Winter wheat

Much of the recently planted wheat in the UK is looking poor. It’s the wheat that is already drilled but not fully established that of most concern. Concerns over crops emerging or indeed failing are reported by all sizes of farming and agronomy enterprises across many regions.

Heavy rains from 13 to 22 October, then from the last few days of October into early November caused serious germination problems for wheat that had recently been planted. Other, earlier planted wheat that had emerged was more resilient and more able to resist the severe rainfall that some regions experienced. Regionally, the Midlands (both East and West) and the North East are the worst affected. In these regions, some of the wheat area could end up being written off and replaced with other crops or fallow.

There is also still a lot of winter wheat yet to be planted, more than usual at this time of year for the reasons mentioned above. By the end of October, we would generally expect most of the winter wheat crop to have been drilled, with the later plantings waiting to follow late harvested crops such as maize or potatoes. Planting progress is likely a few percentage points lower this year (as of the start of November), though there is regional variation with larger delays reported in the East Midlands.

This may skew final crop area figures from the recently published Early Bird Survey results of planting intentions. AHDB will provide an update in early spring.

Also, this year has possibly experienced the worst slug pressure for 10 years or longer. Some growers, who have never used pellets, report the use of multiple applications and multiple pellets in total quantity with limited effect.

Our chief concern at this stage of the plant development is root mass, it is an important process. Root mass is critical to the success of the crop, especially if spring turns out to be particularly dry, making nutrients inaccessible at the soil surface. The same is true if spring is particularly wet, compounding the issues some wheat crops have experienced this autumn.

The weather over the last month has likely already impacted the harvest prospects for 2024. Some planted areas are likely to be replaced, while some will remain and have crop input costs managed according to yield prospects. Some will be fallowed. Other areas will be retained but be thin or patchy. Wheat does have a remarkable capacity to compensate in good spring weather with greater tillering, so if the spring offers good weather conditions, we might yet be surprised. But this is not guaranteed.

Winter oats

Oats tend to be planted slightly later than wheat as in some instances there is less herbicide chemistry available than for wheat. As a result, there remains a good proportion of the winter oat crop still to plant. However, unlike other cereals, they generally can be planted safely until the end of March still as a winter variety. Therefore, the prospects of getting the remaining crop in the ground remain fairly strong, albeit with a yield impact for the latest drilled.

Oats are generally a bit more resilient and hardier against pests such as slugs. As such, winter oats have largely escaped slug pressure. However, poor root growth is a risk this year leaving them open to effect from a potential dry period in the spring.

Download the latest crop development report

How to use the dashboard

  • Use the drop down menu at the top of the first chart to view the crop conditions of a particular crop in each region.

  • Use the drop down menus at the top of the second chart to view the percentage of a crop at each growth stage. The drop down menus can also be used to show the information for a particular region.

Please note this dashboard has not been updated for November 2023.

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