It has been a challenging spring so far – the huge variations in the weather have been unprecedented. What has also been a challenge is the rate the grass grows in the garden – when I’m not walking fields or sitting in front of the computer doing recommendations I seem to be cutting grass. No wonder the Waveney Valley flood plain is full of cattle grazing with their calves; it must be a never-ending supply of excellent food and it must be said they look very well on it.
But bigger challenges are to come I fear – mainly the results of legislation from our soon to be ex-European colleagues sitting on various committees in Brussels.
There won't be many of the current crop of younger agronomists or BASIS-trained farmers and managers who can recollect walking sugar beet in spring looking for wingless aphids.
A wingless aphid (mainly myzus persicae) is about the size of a grain of sugar and pretty much the same colour as a young beet leaf, so not the easiest to see. I can remember walking fields in spring after the first warning came out that aphids have been caught in suction traps, looking for the little blighters. The routine for me was to walk the field in a ‘W’ pull up beet plants, dissect them in the field and count how many had aphids.
I recall the threshold was one wingless aphid per four plants up to the 8 to 10 leaf stage. So, it wasn’t just a one-off time-consuming exercise, but it continued until the beet were quite mature. Once sugar beet reaches a certain size the ease with which aphids can transmit the best yellows virus (BYV) complex reduces so the risk becomes less. Since the introduction of neonic seed treatments, however, this has not been required. I’m not going to enter into the debate of whether we should have neonics or not, we need both bees and insecticides to manage our crops – it’s just I see the possible passing of a very useful tool and the extra workload looming on the horizon if it happens.
Unfortunately, that’s not the last of the valuable tools we seem at risk of losing. Since the regulators changed their position on risk versus hazard for agrochemical approvals it makes things more challenging going forward to maintain the armoury we have to combat the issues we face week-in week-out.
If we had to change our own outlook on life from a risk to a hazard basis, I’m not sure where we would start or finish. Every day we put ourselves into an extremely hazardous situation just by driving to work. But luckily, we have the sense in the main, to keep our eyes open, drive on the correct side of the road, wear our seat belts, watch out for other road users and drive at a sensible speed which is correct for the road condition etc. etc. Some even have advance driver training to further enhance their ability to mitigate the risk of this extremely hazardous activity we all engage in most days of the week. The list goes on.
But it's not all doom and gloom - we have got a fantastic new potato blight product introduced by Corteva - Zorvec Enicade - this season, and we should have the Conviso Smart system for weed control in beet from Bayer and KWS in the next couple of years to help us. Both are excellent new tools.
Anyway, I'm off on a very hazardous activity this evening and no amount of planning and common sense will mitigate all the risk away - it's the Diss Rugby Club summer ball.