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The unseen enemy!

Date Added: 30/09/2016

Blog: By Richard Elsdon, Technical Consultant, United Oilseeds

I am currently reading “The Silent Deep” by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks. It is a history of the Royal Navy Submarine Service since 1945. There is a mass of naval detail which I enjoy and, incidentally, is also one of the one of the reasons why I enjoyed the sea-based novels by the late Tom Clancy.

However, I am already wondering whether the Silent Deep goes in to rather too much revealing detail - just like Mr Clancy’s novels - regarding naval tactics and equipment. No doubt it is already essential reading for our current and potential enemies.


The crew of HMS Taku, Britain's "most hunted" submarine which survived a four-hour depth charge bombardment by lying on the sea bed

The author mentioned two interesting points which may not be widely known:  first, that just after the end of WWII, Churchill admitted that the German ‘U boat’ threat was the only thing which gave him sleepless nights, and second, it seems likely that whilst the Royal Navy still exists, there will always be submarines. The reason for both points is that, whilst the ever-increasing levels of sophistication provided by satellites and radar allows planes, ships and armies to be identified and located quickly, a submarine often goes unobserved and successfully achieves its objective.

To borrow the phrase from Churchill, what gives me sleepless nights are the fungi which attack oilseed rape (OSR) during autumn. Already Phoma spores are maturing and very soon will be drifting unseen in the air, ready to land on this year’s crop of OSR. The spores need 20 days with rain to mature and are then released into the atmosphere. We in the West Country must have passed that moment recently.

Now I know how financially parlous arable farming is at present, but it is a truth that money spent on fungicides invariably gives a worthwhile return. The trick is to choose the correct active ingredient and apply it at the optimum time. Where Phoma is concerned, this still seems to be when 20% of plants are infected. It is worth remembering that one Phoma lesion on one plant constitutes an infected plant.

Another point needs to be remembered. The average size of the plants in the field will dictate how quickly the grower needs to respond with a fungicide. The aim is to stop the infection growing down the leaf petiole before it reaches the hypocotyl where, if left unchecked, it can girdle the stem and cause premature ripening. So, you have more time to respond if the threshold is reached in large plants and much less time if the plants are little more than one or two small true leaves.

I am old enough to remember that it was fashionable to use reduced rates of almost all spray chemicals. And then we began to have increased problems with resistance in several areas. I am now quite certain that anything but the full/appropriate dose for the job is a waste of time and money.

Attack by a costly fungal disease and attack by submarine have one thing in common: they can only be prevented by constant vigilance and a rapid response.  Now, please go and look at that new crop!

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