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  1. More than 100 farmers from across Cumbria and south west Scotland got a new insight into the varieties and agronomy practices suited to northwest England when Hutchinsons opened its Carlisle Regional Technology Centre for the first time.

    The inaugural event on 19 June at Midtown Farm, Kirkbampton, featured 66 recommended and candidate wheat and barley varieties, plus several other agronomy demonstrations and trials.

    Hutchinsons northern seeds manager Stewart MacIntyre said the excellent turnout highlighted the strong appetite among farmers for more local agronomy information, especially in the northwest, as many trials traditionally focussed on eastern counties.

    Looking at variety trials in Carlise

    “Crops grown in this region face very different challenges to those in the east, so it’s important we have the opportunity to see how varieties perform under these conditions before making planting decisions.

    “Our first event at Carlisle RTC was extremely well received.”

    Mr MacIntyre said several varieties attracted a lot of interest from growers keen to find new options that were suited to the Northwest’s growing conditions, disease pressure and other demands.

    Suitable varieties had to balance yield, disease resistance - notably Septoria in wheat and Rhynchosporium in barley - good straw length and standing power/ lodging resistance.

    Three wheats looked particularly promising in the Hutchinsons trials, with all offering good yield potential and strong disease scores, he continued. These included Shabras, Gleam and LG Skyscraper (RL Candidate variety).

    Of the conventional two-row barley varieties, Mr MacIntyre picked out Surge for its all-round disease resistance, KWS Cassia for its high specific weight and KWS Orwell as one of the highest-yielding options that was likely to take market share from KWS Tower.

    Hybrid barleys Sunningdale and Libra also looked strong, he added. The former was the highest yielding in the north, while Libra combined all the positive traits of a hybrid with the second-highest specific weight of any barley variety (just behind KWS Cassia).

    Tackling the Grass Weed Burden

    Aside from the variety demonstration, grass weeds also proved a big talking point, especially brome and meadow-grass.

    “Brome in particular is becoming quite a problem in this area that can be hard to manage,” said local Hutchinsons agronomist Helen Brown, whose family kindly hosted the event.

    “Brome often comes into fields from hedgerows, but we’re also finding problems where there’s a lot of barley in the rotation as control in this crop sometimes isn’t as effective as in wheat.”

    The weed’s hairy leaves can make it harder to achieve good chemical control, while cultural measures must be carefully targeted to the type of brome present, she added.

    For example, Anisantha species such as Barren or Sterile brome should be quickly ploughed down to deplete the seed bank in the soil as exposure to light induces dormancy. In contrast, seed from Bromus types (e.g. Meadow brome) should be left exposed on the surface to ripen and reduce dormancy ahead of cultivating and spraying off with glyphosate.

    “It’s important to identify which species you have to decide on the best course of action, and now is a good time to do that in the field.”

    The challenge of meadow-grass in barley crops was also highlighted at the event, where an untreated plot in the herbicide trial recorded populations of 700 plants/m2.

    However, Miss Brown said 99-100% control was achieved with a pre-emergence application of flufenacet and diflufenican-based products. This was some 10% better control than the same actives applied post-emergence.

    “Our trial clearly shows the importance of treating crops early where meadow-grass is a problem in barley, as there’s quite a benefit to be had from pre-emergence herbicides.”

    A comparison of adjuvants within the same trial showed little difference when used pre-emergence, however results were more varied at the post-emergence timing, she noted. “Some seemed better suited to different conditions (wet or dry), so speak to your agronomist to decide on the best option.”

    Soils in Focus

    A soil pit at the trials site prompted further discussion among growers keen to improve soil health.

    Miss Brown said that although the host farm’s underlying structure was good, there was still scope for improvement by increasing worm numbers.

    “Like many farms in this area we’ve used a lot of farmyard manure in the rotation which is great for worms, but cultivating inevitably undoes some of that benefit, so it’s something we and other farmers need to consider more in future to help enhance earthworm numbers.”

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    Hutchinsons Enhanced Light Interception Orchard System (HELIOS) is a ground breaking 10-year project that that consists of two trial orchards that were planted this spring, one on East Kent, and the other in Herefordshire. The project sets out to explore the question of how orchard design can be improved to capture more sunlight, and thereby increase yield, but balanced against establishment costs, and also mindful of likely future developments in mechanisation such as robotic picking and mechanical pruning.  The project leads on from work done in New Zealand by Stuart Tustin, who is based at ‘Plant and Food Research’ in Hawkes Bay. Stuart proposes that yield potential is ultimately a function of light utilisation, and that current orchard systems will always fall short of their theoretical maximum yields as they significantly fail to intercept a proportion of the available sunlight.  HELIOS seeks to evaluate his theoretical work in practice, and under UK conditions.

    To put this in context, it is clear that orchard design and tree configuration have evolved over time.  When Hutchinsons opened their doors to supply the fruit growers of Wisbech 80 years ago, typical commercial orchards would be planted with ‘half standard’ trees at 30ft by 30ft, (48 trees per acre), probably inter-planted with soft fruit in their early years. Progressive growers would have been planting open centre bush trees at 15ft by 15ft (193 trees/acre). By the 1970s intensities increased, and Cox on MM 106 planted at 7ft by 12ft (518 trees/acre) was commonplace. By the 1980s, 3 and 4 row beds of spindle trees on M9 were planted.  Some still exist, but challenges with weed control and fruit colour have led to the almost universal adoption of ‘single row post and wire’ orchards, 3.5m between the rows and 1 to 1.25m between the trees.  Cordon and espalier tree types have been understood and grown in gardens for vary many years, and perhaps provide a clue of the way forward.  A simple planar canopy with little depth can be manipulated to intercept more light and promises to be amenable to increased mechanisation.

    The trial orchards also incorporate evaluation of novel tree configurations on M116 rootstock from F.P. Matthews.  M116 is of particular interest because of its drought, phytophthora and woolly aphid resistance.  M116 should also have a positive influence on reducing canker (due to improved root health) and fruit quality and size for all Gala and Braeburn clones.  It is more vigorous than M9, so is being evaluated planted as both ‘laydown’ trees resembling a single guyot grapevine, as well as intensively planted spindle trees but without the support or expense of a wirework trellis.  Finally, the sites also host the first UK plantings of a number of varieties from the Netherlands nursery company Carolus.

    Growers will have opportunities to view the trial sites and learn about the development of each of the systems in the years to come; watch out for your invitation or speak to your Hutchinsons agronomist about arranging a visit to HELIOS (in Greek mythology, the god of the sun).

  3. Thanks to the launch of a new precision farming app, growers will now be able to vary crop inputs using only an iPad.

    Hutchinsons' new precision farming tool, Connect, allows users to transfer variable rate field data from the farm office to the tractor cab without the need for a memory stick, a task which many farmers find off-putting, according to precision technology Oliver Wood.