New Trials Demo Puts Spotlight on Local Varieties and Agronomy

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More than 100 farmers from across Cumbria and south west Scotland got a new insight into the varieties and agronomy practices suited to northwest England when Hutchinsons opened its Carlisle Regional Technology Centre for the first time.

The inaugural event on 19 June at Midtown Farm, Kirkbampton, featured 66 recommended and candidate wheat and barley varieties, plus several other agronomy demonstrations and trials.

Hutchinsons northern seeds manager Stewart MacIntyre said the excellent turnout highlighted the strong appetite among farmers for more local agronomy information, especially in the northwest, as many trials traditionally focussed on eastern counties.

Looking at variety trials in Carlise

“Crops grown in this region face very different challenges to those in the east, so it’s important we have the opportunity to see how varieties perform under these conditions before making planting decisions.

“Our first event at Carlisle RTC was extremely well received.”

Mr MacIntyre said several varieties attracted a lot of interest from growers keen to find new options that were suited to the Northwest’s growing conditions, disease pressure and other demands.

Suitable varieties had to balance yield, disease resistance - notably Septoria in wheat and Rhynchosporium in barley - good straw length and standing power/ lodging resistance.

Three wheats looked particularly promising in the Hutchinsons trials, with all offering good yield potential and strong disease scores, he continued. These included Shabras, Gleam and LG Skyscraper (RL Candidate variety).

Of the conventional two-row barley varieties, Mr MacIntyre picked out Surge for its all-round disease resistance, KWS Cassia for its high specific weight and KWS Orwell as one of the highest-yielding options that was likely to take market share from KWS Tower.

Hybrid barleys Sunningdale and Libra also looked strong, he added. The former was the highest yielding in the north, while Libra combined all the positive traits of a hybrid with the second-highest specific weight of any barley variety (just behind KWS Cassia).

Tackling the Grass Weed Burden

Aside from the variety demonstration, grass weeds also proved a big talking point, especially brome and meadow-grass.

“Brome in particular is becoming quite a problem in this area that can be hard to manage,” said local Hutchinsons agronomist Helen Brown, whose family kindly hosted the event.

“Brome often comes into fields from hedgerows, but we’re also finding problems where there’s a lot of barley in the rotation as control in this crop sometimes isn’t as effective as in wheat.”

The weed’s hairy leaves can make it harder to achieve good chemical control, while cultural measures must be carefully targeted to the type of brome present, she added.

For example, Anisantha species such as Barren or Sterile brome should be quickly ploughed down to deplete the seed bank in the soil as exposure to light induces dormancy. In contrast, seed from Bromus types (e.g. Meadow brome) should be left exposed on the surface to ripen and reduce dormancy ahead of cultivating and spraying off with glyphosate.

“It’s important to identify which species you have to decide on the best course of action, and now is a good time to do that in the field.”

The challenge of meadow-grass in barley crops was also highlighted at the event, where an untreated plot in the herbicide trial recorded populations of 700 plants/m2.

However, Miss Brown said 99-100% control was achieved with a pre-emergence application of flufenacet and diflufenican-based products. This was some 10% better control than the same actives applied post-emergence.

“Our trial clearly shows the importance of treating crops early where meadow-grass is a problem in barley, as there’s quite a benefit to be had from pre-emergence herbicides.”

A comparison of adjuvants within the same trial showed little difference when used pre-emergence, however results were more varied at the post-emergence timing, she noted. “Some seemed better suited to different conditions (wet or dry), so speak to your agronomist to decide on the best option.”

Soils in Focus

A soil pit at the trials site prompted further discussion among growers keen to improve soil health.

Miss Brown said that although the host farm’s underlying structure was good, there was still scope for improvement by increasing worm numbers.

“Like many farms in this area we’ve used a lot of farmyard manure in the rotation which is great for worms, but cultivating inevitably undoes some of that benefit, so it’s something we and other farmers need to consider more in future to help enhance earthworm numbers.”