March 8th

Hi All,

A bit of a reluctant spring this one with some pretty chilly day and night temperatures but all the same lovely to have stable high pressure in charge for a few days to let the ground and soils dry down. Last week we had 17mm of rain here overnight when only 4mm was forecast. That Bay of Biscay low pressure pushed a rain front straight over the top of Market Harborough, it promptly stopped overnight, right on top of us, and then came back to finish the job as the wind changed from south to north east. I think in any forecasters terms that would have been a tricky one to predict. The rivers predictably went straight up, however they also dropped very quickly as well, which is a sure sign that there’s some capacity in the soil to absorb rainfall now compared to a few weeks ago when there wasn’t. Nonetheless out walking yesterday, I still encountered springs half way up hills that I hadn’t noticed before.

On the edge of one field that I walk through, the farmer has planted it out with some wild flowers and let in naturalise. In addition in the wetter areas, he has planted Willows. It’s a real eye opener how quickly this area has naturalised and yesterday right in the middle of the day, in beautiful sunshine, I watched a Barn Owl hunting through this area, back and forth, whilst I stayed super-still and just admired what is a beautiful bird of prey. The sun shone bright on its feathers as it effortlessly hunted through the trees, such a vision and a tonic for me, a very necessary one at that. Barn Owl numbers are decreasing country-wide because of loss of habitat and I also believe, because of climate change. Owls, like most birds of prey, don’t like hunting in wet conditions and so their number of hunting days is limited during long, wet winters. Wetter, cool spells in the late spring and summer can also spell disaster both for the adults and any broods they are raising. Let’s hope we can help in some way.

Yesterday, I was listening to a program on gene editing and plant genetics (as you do on a Sunday morning). I was delighted to hear the head scientist from Defra come out firmly in favour of gene editing and so-called genetically-modified crops. You may remember a while back, The John Innes Institute, based in Norwich, developed a potato cultivar that was resistant to Potato Blight, a damaging disease of Potatoes that requires a huge number of Blight fungicide sprays to control. This cultivar was a cross between an existing potato variety and a South American one that was naturally resistant to Blight. At the time, we couldn’t grow it in this country (and still can’t yet) because it was classified as a GM crop and of course the E.U in their infinite wisdom are anti-GM. So we have the farcical situation of a potato cultivar that doesn’t require repeated pesticide applications, being banned on the grounds of ….environmental protection maybe ? So I’m hoping that as we separate from the E.U’s legislation, this is one area where we as a country will benefit. I mean the crossing of plants to breed improved cultivars has been standard practice since oooh the 1800’s. Maybe with the J.I Institute, it was another case of E.U NIH syndrome as I term it (Not invented here). The public debate on genetically-modified crops is very poorly informed and I accept it does raise issues on either side but there are some clear wins from an environmental perspective in reduced use of pesticides.

Why is this relevant to turf ? Well maybe in the future we will see grass cultivars bred that are more resistant to insect grazing. It is a clear focus in other countries from a GM perspective, that of reducing dependence on insecticides by making the cultivar more resistant to a specific insect pest. It is one area where our industry is struggling for sure and without Acelepryn, we’d be in the lurch completely.

Here’s an example of other GM crops under research currently in the U.K from a interest perspective. Modifying plants to produce fish oil is one that sticks out to me because commercial aquafarming is doing massive damage to wild fish stocks of Salmon and Sea Trout due to escapes and dilution of the gene pool not to mention chemical use to control disease and Sea Lice. If we could get that same oil from a plant, well that’s something to think about….

GM foods: On trial in the UK

Blight-resistant Maris Piper potatoes (made by inserting genes from wild potato varieties) – Sainsbury Laboratory

Purple-flesh tomatoes (inserting genes with high anti-oxidants and anthocyanins normally found in blueberries and blackberries) – Norwich Plant Sciences/John Innes Centre

Omega 3-rich Camelina (plants that produce fish oil and could help replace fish farming) – Rothamsted Research

Gene-edited brassica (focusing on sulphur content of brassica plants and improving micronutrient density – John Innes Centre

Iron-rich wheat (to enhance iron density in wheat and tackle global public health iron deficiency) – John Innes Centre

Off the Soapbox and onto the weather…:)

General Weather Situation

The 3 GFS projections above probably sum up the weather and potential weather over the next 7-10 days better than I will in the next few paragraphs 🙂

So this week we are going from stable high pressure to a strong Atlantic low pressure and then there’s a chance next week of going back into a warm, spring high pressure that’ll get everything moving.

So Monday looks like starting off as a north-south scenario, with the north west of Ireland and England / south west of Scotland seeing rain overnight which is now pushing south and east across the north west of England, North Wales and northern England into the north / north east Midlands. Through the course of the day we will see this rain track south and east into East Anglia and across The Irish Sea, into western counties of Ireland. Scotland looks to see rain on and off through the day but by mid-afternoon, the rain will be slinking south and east leaving just showers for the north west behind. So a mixed picture with the south and south west of the U.K and most of Wales staying mainly dry and Scotland, the north of England and east of the U.K, looking to pick up some showers through the day. Some of these will be heavy across Scotland I am afraid. Temperature-wise, nothing to write home about, 8-10°C, with a freshening westerly wind in the west.

Onto Tuesday and overnight most of that rain has fizzled out save for some showers coming in off The Mersey Estuary. Out in The Atlantic though, there’s a big rain front on the radar. So Tuesday looks to start dry for just about everyone. That Atlantic front is the leading edge of what I think will be called ‘Storm Evert’. It will take all day to reach the west of Ireland so I think Tuesday will be mainly dry, with a strengthening westerly / south westerly wind as that low pressure approaches. By evening, the rain will be into the west of Ireland and Scotland and it’ll push quickly across country, accompanied by strong winds and milder temperatures with most areas just hitting double figures.

Mid-week beckons and the first rain front from Storm Evert will likely have cleared Ireland leaving it temporarily dry. Across The Irish Sea and it’s a different story as we will see heavy rain across North Wales and The North West arriving at dawn with more rain pushing in across The South West and an area north of a line drawn from Exeter to The Wash. Scotland will also see rain across the west and central areas and this may turn wintry across elevation. Through the morning we will see Ireland receive plenty of rain from the west covering most of the country and for the U.K, it looks currently like it’ll be heaviest initially south of The Humber. Later more rain pushes into Scotland with some heavy totals for the west and south west. This rain will be accompanied by very strong, gale force winds, a real humdinger this one. It doesn’t look like it’ll be particularly warm despite the wind direction, 8-10°C looks about right.

Dawn on Thursday sees Storm Evert still with us, with strong winds and rain for the north west of England, North Wales, the south and west of Ireland and western Scotland from the off. Through the morning we will see areas brighten up and things turn into a sunshine and showers type scenario. The bulk of the projected rain for Thursday seems to be across the country up until the afternoon and then a more consolidated front for Ireland and the west of the U.K, p.m onwards. Thursday evening sees most of this push through leaving a mix of rain and wintry showers for The North West and the west of Scotland. Really windy again on Thursday so with the brighter spells between the showers it’ll actually be a good drying day in some eastern counties. Similar temperatures again in that strong – gale force westerly wind, 8-10°C.

Closing out the week on Friday and although the centre of Storm Evert will be long gone, we will still be in a pattern of strong westerly winds and plenty of rain. From dawn on Friday we will see rain across Ireland and this will quickly cross The Irish Sea into the west of England, Wales and Scotland, falling as a wintry mix over elevation across northern England and Scotland. Ireland will brighten up as the rain moves through. This rain front over the west of the U.K will push eastwards through Friday morning reaching eastern parts by early afternoon, although for Scotland, the mix of wintry showers looks to be more for the west and central areas with the east and north east of Scotland staying drier. Ireland will see some showers across the west by lunchtime and these will push inland through the afternoon. By dusk that pulse of rain will clear England but the next one with be on its way across The Irish Sea. Still windy on Friday but not quite as windy as mid-week with strong westerlies remaining in place. Similar temperatures to the rest of the week, maybe a degree or two down on Friday at 7-9°C.

So how does the weekend look ?

Well Saturday looks like starting wet for Ireland and the west of the U.K, with rain pushing eastwards through the morning to reach most parts by lunchtime. Across the east of the UK , it’ll stay dry early doors but not for long. Ireland and Scotland look to be wet, particularly across the west with the bulk of that rain not clearing all areas until late afternoon / dusk. Still very windy from the west / north west and therefore remaining cool. Sunday looks a better day for England and Wales but Ireland will see more rain pushing south west to north east and into Scotland later as high pressure begins to push the rain more northwards.A little milder on Sunday with 9-10°C likely. So all in all, an unsettled weekend’s weather, strong winds, plenty of rain and staying cool (ish).

Weather Outlook

So as I intimated at the beginning of this blog, the outlook for next week could indeed be very favourable depending on if the weather shakes out as GFS project. As you can see from the GFS image above, Monday is looking to start windy, but milder, with that strong westerly wind still with us. As we progress from Monday to Wednesday, that high pressure is set to establish to the south and this will mean that instead of pulling in cold wind, it’ll pull in much warmer air from the south, so we should see some really nice temperature if this comes to pass. I’m guessing at this stage, high teens. So next week could start off unsettled for the north and north west of the U.K and Ireland, drier further south and windy from the west. Going from cool to mild at the start of the week, but as the winds drop, temperatures will pick up and any showers will drop out of the picture. The second half of the week should be really nice, warm, dry and settled and that looks to be the way we stay with high pressure projected to be in charge up to and through the weekend, though it may be a little cooler for the latter. Now things may change, that old weather caveat thing, but let’s hope not.

Agronomic Notes

OK, so first off we are going to look back at February 2020 using a mix of GDD and G.P data.

February 2021 – GDD stats – Thame, U.K

As you can see from the GDD stats above, February 2021 checked out as a mild (ish) month and that’s because it was a month of two halves, mild at the beginning and end and blooming cold in the middle.

As such then a total GDD of 37.5 was completely normal and as you can see from the chart, we seem to either have a mildish (> 30GDD month) or a cold one (< 10 GDD).

Early days for me to make any statements about the cumulative results other than they’re on the cool side of normal y.t.d and a good way back for instance on where we were at this stage last year.

Monthly Growth Potential and Rainfall – U.K Locations – February 2021

February was a real up and down month from both a temperature and rainfall perspective with a clear west – east divide. Eastern locations picked up more in the way of the cold, continental high pressure and so less rainfall (though they did have plenty of snowfall mid-month which doesn’t show on here maybe). Western and south western areas got clattered by rainfall with widespread flooding in these areas including some serious flooding for South Wales. Growth-wise, there was some interesting data with of course Jersey top of the pops again. Central and eastern locations were very similar, sitting between 3-4.5 total G.P for the month, which let’s face it, isn’t a lot. A total G.P of 4 for the month of February out of a potential total of 28 (28 days x optimum growth potential 1.0) works out on average at 14.29% for the month. So we are saying the plant is growing at 14% of optimum during February 2021. The two lowest locations from a G.P perspective were at different ends of the country, Okehampton down in Devon and Bolton in Lancashire.

Rainfall-wise, we saw big variability with The South West, North Wales and Scotland picking up the highest totals and the colder, drier central areas, the lowest. That said we know there was snowfall in these stats but with an average snow to rain ratio of 10:1, I don’t think this was so significant. (So 10″ of snow = 1″ of rain). The snow that fell in February was powder dry and I’d venture the ratio was even higher.

Let’s look at how the growth panned out from a daily perspective at some of the locations above ;

So we can see from the charts above, February 2021 started with a small amount of growth but this was quickly curtailed by the cold, easterly spell of weather that brought things to a halt. A rapid thaw took place on the 14th of February and from then we pulled in some nice growth peaking on the 24th of February with day temperature in the high teens and the night temperature in double digits as well. This resulted in a daily G.P close to optimum (0.8 or 80% of optimum). Things dropped back from the 25th of February and we have been pretty much at the same level since. So growth levels are just ticking along presently, but slowly.

Monthly Growth Potential and Rainfall – Irish Locations – February 2021

With a hop, skip and a jump, we are across The Irish Sea to look at the same data format for February 2021. So we see pretty much the same range of growth across a month, notable as usual for the temperate (but very wet) Kerry climate that posted the two highest monthly G.P totals for Ireland. What a contrast across to south, south east and east of Ireland where we have nearly 50% of the growth potential across the month of these locations and pretty similar to the U.K. Rainfall-wise, the usual suspects got a clattering in February 2021 in Ireland, with the west, the north west and south / south east of Ireland in the firing line. Until I started doing these stats I never realised that Cork was such a wet place. The ignorance of the man !

Looking at the daily Growth Potential stats, we can see how growth panned out on a day-to-day basis across Ireland ;

You can clearly see the same cold air fingerprint that provided so many beautiful snow scenes from the mountains of Ireland through February. It is unusual for cold air to push so far west, but push west it did. Ireland enjoyed the same rapid thaw but it didn’t get the bounce at the end of the month and so good growth days have been few and far between (3 days in total in most locations)

You can see how the Kerry location picked up better growth potential but it must be remembered that it also picked up plenty of rain to boot.

Looking ahead….

So this week as discussed we have a wet and windy one coming up with not alot of change in the daily temperatures and therefore growth prospects.

That could all change next week if that warm high pressure comes into play.

Now of course we are talking about 7-10 days ahead, that means at the limit of forecasting whatever The Daily Express likes to think :). Looking at the ECMWF forward projections, they too have the high pressure coming up from the south but it sits more westerly over Ireland. This means it pulls down northerly winds rather than southerlies and that could mean temperatures will only push up into the low rather than high teens. Either way I’d still expect next week to represent a commencement of some decent growth and lets hope this means good recovery from aeration and disease scarring prior to the world and his wife coming back to play golf 🙂

The one slight fly in the ointment may be that we also see some heavy dews, milder nights and a bit of disease activity to boot. This will be worse if the high pressure is centrally-situated over the U.K and pulls up southerly winds. That said if it does, we will also pick up some nice weather for growing so it’s horses for courses 😛

A great time therefore to get any granular fertiliser down this week before the winds pick up too much, get it washed in and then hopefully watch the response (my colleagues won’t thank me for writing this)

All the best, stay safe and healthy in the week to come.

Mark Hunt