The impact of wet weather on crop growth – how can fertiliser help?

For farmers in the UK, one of the wettest winters in the past century has brought challenges of historic proportions.

With extensive areas of land submerged underwater, the impacts on crop growth have been significant.

In this blog, we delve into the repercussions of such weather on crops such as wheat, barley, oilseed rape and grassland. We also explore the crucial role fertilisers play in helping growers to mitigate weather damage and maximise yields.

The impact of wet weather on crop growth

Wet weather poses numerous challenges for crop cultivation. Excessive moisture can lead to waterlogging, nutrient leaching, soil erosion, and increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. These issues are examined in more detail below, before we outline how good crop nutrition can provide potential solutions.

  1. Waterlogging

Crops such as wheat, barley, and oilseed rape are particularly vulnerable to waterlogging, due to their shallow root systems and intolerance to oxygen-deprived conditions.

Waterlogged soils inhibit root development and nutrient uptake, stunting growth and reducing yield potential. Similarly, grass silage production can be hampered as waterlogging impedes grass growth and quality, leading to reduced fodder availability for livestock.

For more practical advice on managing cereal, grass, and oilseed rape crops in waterlogged conditions, read our blog on how to manage crops in waterlogged soils.

  1. Nutrient leaching

High rainfall events during wet winters accelerate nutrient leaching, impacting crops like wheat, barley, and oilseed rape, which have high nutrient demands for optimal growth and yield.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium are essential nutrients prone to leaching, affecting the crops’ nutrient status – which means supplementary fertiliser applications are essential to replenish lost nutrients.

Grass silage production also suffers from nutrient leaching, resulting in diminished nutrient content and poorer forage quality for livestock feed.

  1. Soil erosion

Intense rainfall events exacerbate soil erosion by dislodging soil particles and carrying them away with runoff. This erosion diminishes soil fertility by removing topsoil rich in organic matter and essential nutrients, reducing the soil’s capacity to support healthy crop growth.

Cereal crops, such as wheat and barley, are particularly susceptible to soil erosion on sloping terrain or fields with inadequate soil conservation measures. Learn more on how to improve soil health and structure to prevent erosion on arable fields.

Grass silage fields are similarly impacted by soil erosion, leading to reduced grass growth and nutrient availability for silage production.

  1. Increased susceptibility to diseases and pests

Wet and mild weather conditions create conducive environments for fungal diseases, such as Fusarium head blight in wheat and barley, and Phoma stem canker in oilseed rape.

These diseases thrive in moist conditions and can cause significant yield losses and quality reductions in affected crops.

Additionally, increased pest pressure from insects like aphids and slugs poses challenges for crop protection and management in both cereal and grass.

Protecting and bolstering crops: The role of fertilisers

Even during challenging weather conditions, fertilisers emerge as indispensable allies for farmers striving to safeguard their crops and optimise productivity.

Fertilisers replenish essential nutrients lost through leaching, promote robust root development, and enhance overall plant resilience against environmental stresses.

Keep reading to learn more about the importance of pivotal nutrients, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), for arable and grassland crops impacted by wet weather.

  1. Fertilisers replenish essential nutrients

In times of excessive moisture and nutrient leaching, fertilisers serve as a vital resource for replenishing essential nutrients lost from the soil profile.

Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with other micronutrients, are crucial for sustaining plant growth and development.

Fertiliser applications provide a targeted means of restoring nutrient balance in the soil, ensuring that crops have access to the nutrients they need for optimal performance.

For example: In the aftermath of heavy rainfall, wheat fields may suffer from nutrient depletion, particularly nitrogen. Applying nitrogen-rich fertilisers, such as Nutramon, promptly helps ensure wheat plants have the essential elements necessary for robust growth and development despite adverse weather conditions.

  1. Promoting robust root development

Phosphorus plays a pivotal role in supporting root development in cereal and grassland crops.

Adequate phosphorus availability encourages the formation of healthy root systems, enabling plants to access water and nutrients more efficiently from the soil.

Strong root systems enhance nutrient uptake and drought tolerance, contributing to overall plant resilience and productivity, especially in challenging environmental conditions such as waterlogged soils.

For example: By stimulating root growth, phosphorus enables barley plants to access water and nutrients more efficiently from saturated soils, mitigating the negative effects of wet conditions and enhancing crop resilience.

  1. Enhancing overall plant resilience

Potassium is a key nutrient for enhancing plant resilience against environmental stresses.

Potassium strengthens cell walls, reducing the likelihood of lodging in cereal crops, and maintaining structural integrity in grass silage.

Additionally, potassium regulates water uptake and transpiration, helping plants to better withstand fluctuations in soil moisture levels.

By bolstering plant resilience, potassium fertilisation ensures that crops can adapt and thrive amidst fluctuating weather conditions, ultimately improving yield stability and quality.

For example: In previously waterlogged oilseed rape fields, potassium fertilisers bolster plant resilience. By strengthening cell walls and regulating water uptake, potassium helps oilseed rape plants maintain structural integrity and metabolic function, minimising yield losses in wet weather situations.

  1. The role of nitrogen in leaf and stem growth

Nitrogen is indispensable for promoting vigorous leaf and stem growth in cereal and grass crops.

Adequate nitrogen supply stimulates the production of chlorophyll – the green pigment responsible for photosynthesis – leading to lush foliage and robust vegetative growth, even in drenched soils.

Furthermore, nitrogen is essential for protein synthesis, helping to bolster grain and forage quality in cereal and silage crops impacted by wet conditions.

For example: In grass silage fields previously affected by prolonged wet weather, applying a nitrogen fertiliser such as Nutramon helps to ensure a dense and productive sward. Despite the challenges from excess moisture, nitrogen-fuelled growth facilitates rapid biomass accumulation, helping to provide ample forage for silage production and maintaining feed quality for livestock.

Improving crop resilience with fertiliser

These examples highlight how the strategic application of fertilisers tailored to the specific needs of crops can mitigate the adverse effects of wet weather conditions, once dried out, ensuring optimal growth, yield, and resilience.

By leveraging the capabilities of fertilisers, farmers can navigate past challenging weather events and sustain agricultural productivity even in the face of an increasingly unpredictable environment.

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