Cereals Challenge 2015: May 7th

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A cold slow start to spring and tough markets have proved challenging for the six student teams fighting it out to grow the most profitable crop of rye in the 2015 Cereals Challenge.

Six plots of rye have been officially handed over to the student teams to manage through to the final judging during the Cereals Event. The Cereals Challenge plots are based at the 2015 Cereals site at Boothby Graffoe.

The student teams have complete responsibility for the plots from mid-February until the day before the Cereals event in June, when they will be judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, and Alastair Priestley – managing director of Patrick Dean Ltd, this years’ Cereals host farm.
“With rye not being a mainstream crop, this year’s challenge is particularly demanding - the teams will need to think like real time agronomists and respond to both crop and seasonal demands using a range of resources – and they will also need to justify their recommendations with an eye on the final gross margin!” says Andrew Mortimer, of Velcourt, who looks after the plots on a day-day basis.
cereals challenge 2015 may
Alice Cannon, team captain for the Newcastle University team, says that the slow start to the spring has meant that the team have had to think more carefully about early applications to the crop. “We applied early nitrogen but it has been very dry since so we really need some rain to get the nitrogen down into the rooting zone to give the rye the boost that it needs.  But at the same time we are conscious of the high risk of lodging of the crop so we are trying to get the balance right- and we are prepared to spend to keep the crop standing.”

“There were some early signs of disease, mildew was the most obvious, but we hope that we have dealt with that in the T0 spray that went on and the imminent T1 spray. We have planned the T2 sprays to keep protectant levels up, but will visit the site beforehand to see what we are dealing with and be prepared to make changes as required.
The Newcastle team believe that the hardest part of the challenge is selling the grain as this is not something they have much experience in and the market is so unpredictable and volatile.

The team of students from Nottingham University have been surprised how tall the rye is. “We know rye is a tall crop - but we weren't expecting it to be as tall as it is already. We are hoping that our PGR's will work effectively and prevent our plot from falling over – particularly as it's in the middle of the Cereals show ground for everyone to see!“ says James Driffield, team captain. “Our concerns are less about the crop itself, but more about the current prices as I'm sure most farmers will be.“

Bill Meredith, head of agriculture at Riseholme College, believes that the Cereals Challenge is an excellent opportunity for students to involve themselves in the real time decision making processes that agronomists and growers make on a daily basis. “The fact that the winning team must produce the highest profit, and take into consideration the marketing of the crop, makes the challenge all the more realistic - and this is exactly what the teams are finding in this years challenge.”

The winning team will be announced at the Cereals Event, at 11am on the 10th June at the Velcourt stand.