Teams Battle it Out for Cereals Challenge - Dick Neale - Anglia Farmer

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  • Virtual crop of winter wheat grown
  • Different strategies for different teams
  • Blackgrass and volunteers and threats

Six teams of students are fighting it out for this year’s Cereals Challenge – to grow a virtual crop of winter wheat in a testing set of circumstances.

Now in its ninth year, the Cereals Challenge aims to encourage a new generation of agronomists and farmers into the industry by offering them a crop to manage.  It is organised by agronomy specialists Hutchinsons and farm business management company Velcourt.

The winners will be announced at this year’s Cereal event following entries from Nottingham University, Newcastle University, Harper Adams University, Writtle University College, Hartpury College and the Royal Agricultural University.

This year’s challenge is to grow the best plot of winter wheat on land that has resistant blackgrass.  Students must also contend with the remnants of last year’s oilseed rape crop, which has left Clearfield volunteers to manage.

Previously teams have been given a real plot to manage at the Cereals event site.  But this year’s virtual plots aim to make the competition simpler and fairer for everyone by ensuring that teams further away from the site are not disadvantaged.

Online Video

Keith Norman of Velcourt and Dick Neale of Hutchinsons used online videos to describe the scope of each challenge. These were filmed in the field where the crop is being grown - giving students the chance to see and get a feel for soil structure and early weed populations.

In the run-up to Cereals, the next three steps of the challenge are being conveyed using a Facebook  video  blog  to high light what is happening in the crop. Paul Hobson, of Hutchinsons, said: "We hope this reflects the changing way many young people access information today."

Wheat plots must be managed as if it were a 'real' crop and each team will still have complete responsibility for their crop - from choosing which variety to grow, cultivating land and drilling seed through to making real-time agronomy decisions on inputs.

Teams have also been asked to give a short presentation about crop establishment and variety choice.  The Royal Agricultural University team opted to drill later in November so they could treat the field with glyphosate to clear up any volunteers.

Different Strategies

"We chose to grow Evolution, based on its ability to tiller well and compete with the black-grass. We have gone for a slightly higher seed rate of 350 seeds/m2 and this was drilled using a Vaderstad disc drill,” said team captain Tania Coxon.

The team from Hartpury direct drilled their crop of Skyfall to avoid moving the soil, reducing black-grass germination. Although a milling variety, the team felt Skyfall gave them the option of aiming for a milling premium but with the fall back of a high yielding feed wheat, treated with Beret Gold Deter, the crop was drilled around the 23-31st October at a variable rate of 360-400 seeds/m2. Slug traps were used before applying metaldehyde and stewardship guidelines closeIy followed due to a nearby watercourse.

Last year’s winners Writtle University College believe that the Cereals Challenge is a very valuable way of finding out what it is like to grow a crop like a farm manager or agronomist, needing to make recommendations and last-minute decisions according to the season.

Winning Team

"It's also a really good chance to raise our profile with potential future employers, as the Challenge receives lots of attention and media profile, so it's well worth the effort," says this year’ s team captain David Parker, who is studying for a master’s degree in crop production.

Teams must also write a technical article on farm diversification suitable for publication on a farming website. It will be judged by representatives of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists and has a separate prize of £400 per team and £100 per college.

Updates are being posted on Twitter with the hashtag #CerealsChallenge2018. The eventual winners will be announced on the Hutchinsons stand at the 2018 Cereals Event on Wednesday 13 June. They will be presented with a trophy, £1000 to share and £500 for their college.