With the Cereals Event just around the corner, the 2018 Cereals Challenge is drawing to a close. Five teams from Universities and Colleges from across the country have grown a virtual crop of winter wheat in what must be one of the most challenging seasons since the Challenge was launched 9 years ago.
Teams from Nottingham University, Newcastle University, Harper Adams University, Writtle University College, and the Royal Agricultural University were challenged with growing the best plot of winter wheat on land with a resistant black-grass challenge, following a crop of oilseed rape leaving Clearfield volunteers to manage.
The virtual plots have meant that there was no geographical bias for teams closer to this year’s Cereals site at Crishall Grange Farm, Duxford, Cambridge. The wheat plots have still been grown and managed as if a real crop - from choosing which variety to grow, cultivation and drilling details through to making the real-time agronomy decisions on inputs, explains Paul Hobson of Hutchinsons.
During the course of the season the teams were presented with crop updates via a video blog on the Hutchinsons facebook page. Starring Hutchinsons technical manager and soil health expert, Dick Neale and Velcourt’s technical director Keith Norman, the videos have reflected what a difficult season crops have faced, and for the teams this posed the key question of how they would manage to keep crops clean and standing whilst remaining cost-effective.
Guy Stovin, team captain of the University of Newcastle team who is reading Agriculture with honours in Agronomy, believes that his team’s approach of not skimping on fungicides or PGR’s will prove invaluable.
“Due to the bad weather, our crop had a delayed T0. Conditions were not much better as the crop approached the T1 so we decided to use an SDHI at T1 as well as at T2 which was not initially the plan. “
“With so much disease around as T2’s are applied, I am glad that we went for a robust fungicide programme.”
The team from the Royal Agricultural College led by Tania Coxon, also decided to include SDHI’s at T1 and T2 on their crop of Evolution, “although timings so far have not been as accurate as we would have liked.”
The final task in this year’s Challenge involved writing a technical piece on Farm Diversification where land is no longer viable for profitable combinable cropping, that would be suitable for publication on a farming website. Diversification options such as wine making, mob grazing grass leys and building a reservoir have been offered up as alternatives.
This will be judged separately by a representative of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists and has a separate prize of £400 per team and £100 for the College.
Set up as a joint initiative between Hutchinsons and Velcourt to offer an insight into careers in agronomy or farm management, the Cereals Challenge has proved a success in its 9-year history with 8 students joining Hutchinsons successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme, whilst Velcourt has taken on 6 students into its management training scheme, four of whom are now managing their own farms.
The overall winners of the Cereals Challenge will be announced and presented with a trophy, £1000 to share as well as £500 for their College, on the Hutchinsons stand No 400 at the 2018 Cereals Event at Chrishall Grange farm in Cambridge on Wednesday 13th June 2018.
Follow the 2018 Cereals Challenge on Twitter #CerealsChallenge2018 where you can meet the teams and find out which team will be the 2018 winner.