Mild winter, frost, poor rainfall – weather conditions which Polish farmers face this season

As Covid-19 continues to dominate the headlines large areas of Eastern Europe face another issue, drought. On April 22nd the Polish Institute of Meteorology and Water Management (IMGW) has warned that Poland could face a severe drought this season – Predicted as the worst drought in a century.

Poland has faced difficult and unstable weather conditions over the last 4 month period impacting crop production. A mild winter and large swings in temperature across the early Spring months have caused a build-up in fungal diseases.  Warmia, Mazury, Dolny Śląsk and Wielkopolskie along with other regions  are all experiencing problems as temperatures throughout April have fluctuated between freezing and 15 degrees. The continued frosts late into the season have caused issues for growers, particularly in regards to fungicide timings and required amounts.

Studies show that the efficiency of fungicide in water stressed crops is lower than in those crops  with sufficient access to soil moisture. Many studies also raise the question how much fungicide is actually required during a drought prone season?

In Poland the general advice being provided by agronomists is to reduce fungicide doses slightly, however those crops exposed to frosts, drought and pests are left more susceptible to fungal infections and a reduction in fungicide may not offer adequate protection.

A typical effect of drought on crops is mineral deficiency, usually presented following flag leaf emergence during the production of the ear/head. It is considered appropriate to apply additional elements around T2 fungicide applications once the flag leaf is fully emerged.  Typical deficiencies in maturing crops tend to include Fe (Iron), Cu (Copper), Mn (Manganese), Zn (Zinc) and B (Boron). Brown & Co would advise carrying plant tissue analysis within established crops to better detect such deficiencies and obtain specialist agronomic advice where necessary. Studies indicate that foliar applications of calcium (Ca2+) offer assistance to drought stressed crops, particularly wheat and sugar beet. 

The unusually mild winter has pushed crops on further than growers would have liked, therefore fertiliser and fungicide timings will need to be adjusted accordingly and will be different to previous years. Particularly in the case of foliar Urea treatments, careful consideration is required here. The general rule of thumb is that any N (Nitrogen) applications up to growth stage 39 (the end of stem elongation) will increase the number of tillers and kernels per head, increasing grain protein through N present in the stem and leaves. Any N (Nitrogen) applied followed stem elongation will increase grain protein levels and not necessarily impact yield.

Many farmers face issues with those crops already treated with T1 fungicide which have subsequently been hindered by low morning temperatures throughout April. Spraying between frosts can affect efficacy and in some cases give crop damage. Ideally plants need to uptake the chemical sprayed on them and they need to be actively growing to do this.

Careful consideration needs to be taken into account for T2 application, the fungicide application is widely known as the most important as it offers protection to the flag leaf. Brown & Co would advise monitoring weather patterns closely and regularly walking the crop waiting for healthy looking foliage to emerge.

With the above taken into account, and the knowledge that Europe is already set to face a difficult task of producing and procuring food this year, the combined factors are thought to have positive short term effects to farm gate prices. This may offer some light at the end of the tunnel for Eastern European growers after the region has experienced the warmest winter in half a century followed by the lowest March rainfall in 30 years.