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Wet and Cold Start Proves Challenging for Student Teams

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The cold and wet conditions of spring have proved a challenge for the six teams hoping to grow the most profitable crop of peas in this year’s Cereals Challenge.

Six plots at the site of the 2016 Cereals event, Chrishall Grange Farm in Cambridge, were officially handed over to the student teams back in February with the challenge to grow the most profitable crop of peas.  

It is the first time that peas have been grown in the seven years that the Cereals Challenge has been running, in recognition of the UN declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses.

Since then each team has had complete responsibility for their crop from choosing which variety to grow, drilling details, making the real-time agronomy decisions on inputs, and finally advice on harvesting the crop.

The plots will be handed over to the judges the day before the Cereals event when Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, Roger Vickers of the PGRO and Claire Domoney from the John Innes Centre will collectively decide which team will be crowned the 2016 Cereals Challenge winner. This will be based on each team’s agronomic recommendations (evaluating their appropriateness and timeliness for each recommendation), input cost management, estimated crop yield and the quality, as well as harvesting advice.  

peas cereals challenge 2016
Cereals Challenge 2016 - Peas

“Establishing peas in cold and wet conditions is never easy, so the teams had to consider this from the very start. All of the plots were drilled on the 21st March, however individual teams needed to advise on the seed depth and rate, post-drilling soil management and also to plan ahead for early disease and pest threats,” says Andrew Mortimer of Velcourt who is responsible for the day to day management of the crops.

The Harper Adams University team are happy with how their crop has emerged. ”Seed bed conditions were good at drilling, the peas were drilled at 3cm depth and we stayed with the standard seed rate of 268kg/ha, so only time will tell if this should have been increased in light of the cold and wet conditions, which could affect establishment percentage,” says Alex Aston, team captain.

The Royal Agricultural University team did however decide to increase the recommended seed rate to 302kg/ha for their plot of Prophet, and based on how the crop has established think this was the right decision.

Rhys Jones captain of the Bishop Burton team, who are growing the marrowfat pea Sakura, believes that downy mildew will be the key disease threat to their crop. For this reason the team chose a variety that had good overall disease resistance but also used an effective seed dressing that would protect the crop and ensure it emerged well.

“Despite the cold conditions there’s been very little frost to date, so we are concerned about high aphid populations, and we will monitor threshold levels and spray an insecticide as and when these are met” he says.

However the Newcastle University team have had an early focus on weeds. “We chose to grow the blue pea Prophet as we felt it was a less risky and costly option than a premium marrowfat. We have opted for a robust pre-emergence herbicide programme, based around three actives, so that we can hit the weeds strongly as soon as they start actively growing. We settled on Nirvana (3l/ha) and Centium (0.2l/ha),” says team captain Susannah Franks.
Like any real time agronomists, the teams will now need to continue to manage their peas going through until Cereals, ensuring that they respond to any particular crop or seasonal events. The final stage of the Challenge requires them to think about any pre-harvest treatments and a harvest plan for their crop.

susannah franks newcastle
Susannah Franks - Newcastle Team Captain

Simon Allen, lecturer at Harper Adams University and tutor to the team, believes that the Cereals Challenge is an excellent initiative in that it gets the students thinking about the bigger picture and involves them networking with a range of experts throughout the industry (agronomists, distributors, manufacturers etc.)

“The dialogue and discussions with industry experts adds breadth to their studies, it clearly motivates them to do well, and both sides enjoy the contact.”

The winning team will be announced at the Cereals Event, at 11am on the 15th June at the Velcourt stand (703). Follow the 2016 Cereals Challenge on Twitter @CerealChallenge where you can meet the teams and keep up-to-date with what is happening on the plots.