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  1. Consider the role that fungicides play in reducing the impact of weather and variety on yields says Dr David Ellerton, Hutchinsons Technical Development Director.

    “One of the key challenges that yields face is the impact of weather - solar radiation, temperature and rainfall - and the effects of disease when weather conditions are conducive to disease development.”

    Whilst there is nothing that can be done about the weather, it is possible to reduce the impact of disease when conditions are challenging by using an appropriate fungicide programme, thereby reducing any further yield losses, he says.

    “We know that wheat yields have plateaued since the late 1990’s – if this had not happened we would be looking at average yields of 9 -10t/ha however in 2011/2012 we saw yields drop down to less than 7t/ha, and this was largely the effect of a dull, wet summer. “

    “The dull wet conditions gave rise to high disease levels, and we saw some of the highest levels of septoria since the mid 1980’s, whilst fusarium hit an all-time high with almost 96% infection of samples. Yellow rust bubbled away in the background affecting more susceptible varieties such as Oakley and Torch, and there was also a massive explosion of brown rust later on in the season.”
    However, Dr Ellerton points out that during 2011/2102 across all of the 16 Hutchinsons Regional Technology sites, the average response to fungicides was 2.77t/ha or 44%, despite a low mean treated yield of 9.02 t/ha, so even in a low potential year, the positive effect from fungicides on yield was significant.

    take a protectant approach to keeping diseases such as septoria tritici und

    “Looking more recently at the summer of 2013/2014, conditions could not have been more different to those in 2011/12; sunshine levels were well above the 30 year mean at the important times in the yield forming cycle, April and June/July. It was also wet and mild so crops had good growth but conditions were also ripe for disease. Recorded septoria levels in 2014 were the highest in 15 years according to the Defra winter wheat disease survey,” he adds.

    The mean varietal response to fungicides over all the HLH Regional Technology Centres sites in 2013/14 was 3.28t/ha, a 36.9% benefit, with a mean treated yield of 12.18t/ha, showing that crops made good use of the sunshine. At our Ludlow site, which is on fertile soils but had severe disease challenges, this response was particularly high; the average response to fungicides was 6.77t/ha a 95.2% positive response and an exceptional treated yield of 13.88 t/ha – showing that where there was good control of disease, plants could make yield.

    Dr Ellerton believes the best way to help crops make the most of the available sunshine this coming season is to adopt a protectant approach when planning fungicide programmes. This means that the early sprays are very important.

    “We have seen a drop away in the curativity of the triazoles over the last decade, and although the SDHI fungicides offer some eradication of Septoria they do not have the level of curative action that the triazoles did 15 years ago, so it is important to adopt a protectant approach with the aim of keeping the septoria levels down from the very beginning at T0 and T1 - this means that come the flag leaf spray you are not trying to beat back disease.”
    “In fact, the results of some recent trials that we have carried out have shown septoria activity and good yield responses from an autumn/early winter protectant spray, so keeping septoria at bay even this early can have positive effects, and this is something we will be looking closely at again this year.”

    Fungicides not only protect the leaves from disease but also have physiological effects on the plant that also impact on the final yield, even when disease levels are low, he points out.
    “Whilst strobilurin use waned when they lost their efficacy against septoria several years ago, they still do a good job against rust and offer positive physiological effects on rooting and greening - and a combination of SDHI’s and strobilurins have been shown to have a direct impact on size, persistence and levels of chlorophyll in the leaves resulting in greater efficiency of light uptake.”
    Early application is key to maximising these benefits though he adds.

    Choosing the right variety in the first place is also important continues Dr Ellerton. He believes that variety choice needs to be broadened from a tendency to concentrate on the highest yielding varieties on the AHDB Recommended List, to those with better disease resistance.

    “This means that a spread of varieties can be drilled as a risk management strategy; those with lower resistance ratings can be prioritised at spraying leaving some leeway for the varieties with higher disease ratings thereby optimising spray timings to get the most benefit from your fungicides.”

  2. ‘More science more yield’ was the take home message to the 350 farmers in attendance at this year’s Hutchinsons winter technical conference, in Peterborough.

    In recognition of 2015 being the International Year of Soils and also the excellent results achieved in this year’s Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) project, the conference focussed on how soils and yields are intrinsically linked.

    Prof Achim Dobermann, Director of Rothamsted Research, explored the status of yield increases in different crops across the world, and presented his conclusion that climate change is only responsible for 10% of the yield stagnation in wheat in the UK.
    On the contrary, Prof Dobermann highlighted the correlation between yield plateaus and the reductions in the use of nitrogen and phosphorus, noting that the long term work on cereal yields at Rothamsted since 1843 has identified the importance of soil management, and this combined with genetics, are the keys to unlocking the yield barriers.  Prof Dobermann underlined the need to forget the quick fixes and move back to the basics of good agronomy.

    Prof Achim Dobermann of rothamsted speaking at the hutchinsons conference

    Dick Neale, Hutchinsons technical manager, looked at some of the impacts of cultivation techniques on soil health. “Many farmers prepare their seedbeds to accommodate the type of drill that they use, rather than the specific requirements of different crops. It’s key to really look at your soils and understand what issues exist,” he said. Mr Neale raised his concerns that many soil inspections are carried out in the summer when soils are dry and hard, inducing potentially wrong conclusions, in particular regarding soil compaction. He suggested that many of the answers to these problems can be solved by reduced tillage, as a way to increase soil strength, and that the power of plant roots to maintain soil conditions was under-estimated.

    The role of solar energy in the creation of yield
    Farming is about energy conversion and its success depends on capturing and measuring this, was the message from Roger Sylvester Bradley of ADAS. He insisted that with regards to light capture, the choice of varieties plays a major role through the leaf size and leaf angle, and that growers and agronomists must then optimise the development phase of the plant, and secure the protection of the plant through the maturation phase. He identified the key role of the root structure in this process to ensure the maximum capture of water and nutrients in the soil.

    Dr David Ellerton, technical director with Hutchinsons, presented clear evidence of the role in rooting structure of some of the SDHI fungicides, and also of the correlation between a bigger green leaf area with increased photosynthesis.  However, the battle for disease control is being complicated by the development of disease resistance, especially with septoria, yellow rust and fusarium he noted, highlighting that work last year by Hutchinsons and ADAS showed that triazole mixtures gave a better control of disease as different products can have different levels of control of the different strains of septoria.  The work also highlighted the efficacy of SDHIs, and the importance to UK farming of preserving their efficacy through applications in mixtures with other chemical families.

    soil and water were the main themes at this years hutchinsons conference

    Predictable water in unpredictable weather
    Drawing on many years of observations, and using sophisticated weather models, Prof Tim Osborne of the University of East Anglia, led the audience to realise that the future will bring heavy winter rainfall followed by hot and dry summers.  “This will lead to changes in practice for the production of wheat, across the UK and Europe,” he said.  Andy Brown from Anglian Water followed on, explaining the general water requirements in the future caused by the increased population in East Anglia. “Whilst the time deadline looks far away, to get involved in the local consultations over the next 2 years, as these will determine key issues surrounding water storage and availability.”

    Hutchinsons Dr Bob Bulmer closed the presentations by describing some of the growing practices which growers will need to adopt if they want to continue to increase yields. “Essentially farmers and agronomists will need to work together to manage the soil in ways which will permit enhanced water storage and increased root depth for their crops,” he said.

  3. Heavy land growers need to re-examine the value of spring barley for controlling black-grass as new research from Hutchinsons reveals its gross margins can significantly outperform second wheat as well as deliver long-term reductions in weed numbers.
    Analysis of four years of data from the Black-grass Centre of Excellence in Brampton, Cambridgeshire, shows the gross margin from spring barley can be £150-200/ha more than second wheat once wider benefits from additional black-grass control and lower growing costs are factored in.

    “Getting good black-grass control from a spring crop has long-term value across the rotation and I believe many growers need to look again at the justification for spring cropping,” technical manager Dick Neale says.
    “All too often those on heavy land think spring crops can’t be grown, but our work at Brampton proves they can if you’re prepared to identify the problems and find solutions.”
    Second wheats at Brampton typically delivered a gross margin of £490/ha from a long-term average yield of 9.5t/ha, which was above the £475/ha from spring barley yielding 7.5t/ha. However, in four years of growing second wheats under high black-grass pressure, 5-7% of crop was typically sprayed-off each year to minimise black-grass seed return, costing £52/ha. The extra passes and inputs required for winter-sown second wheats add another £50/ha in costs.
    Furthermore, even where every step is taken to minimise black-grass pressure when autumn sowing, such as with delayed drilling and stale seedbeds, black-grass control is still very variable, with the best reduction in seed return typically 31% on average. This is 50% less than the average black-grass reduction in spring barley of 88%, Mr Neale says.
    “Of all the cultural options available, ploughing is the only one that could give somewhere near that 50% extra control as an average. Add a nominal value of this at £50-60/ha to the gross margin calculations and the real gross margin from spring barley can soon be £150/ha and may be up to £200/ha better than a second wheat.”

    Make it happen
    Mr Neale acknowledges the main factor preventing many growers on heavy clay-based soils from spring cropping is the time soils take to dry out and warm up in the spring. But he insists this can be overcome with appropriate management.
    Autumn-sown cover crops are a particularly effective way of drying land out and conditioning soil ahead of spring drilling, he notes. “If you’re willing to spend £40-50/ha on ploughing, why not spend that on a cover crop instead which can effectively do the same job and increase your window for drilling in spring.”
    Being realistic about the likely establishment of spring-sown crops on heavy land is also key and high seed rates need to be used to compensate for the more hostile establishment conditions, he says.
    Most research suggests 60-70% establishment is typical, which means seed rates for spring barley need to be 450-500/m2 to give an established plant population of around 300 plants/m2 and optimise yield and black-grass suppression, he advises.
    “Heavier soils have the ability to hold moisture through to grain fill much better than traditional light barley land, so there’s much less risk of poor grain fill and low bushel weights.”
    North Cambridgeshire-based Hutchinsons agronomist Simon Wilcox believes good seedbed preparation and effective control of weeds and volunteers in the autumn is another key to growing spring crops on heavy land.
    He recommends spraying off any autumn-emerged black-grass with glyphosate in September, early November and again in January, leaving at least 5-6 weeks before drilling to allow any black-grass root exudates to breakdown in the soil.
    Growers should wait until ground conditions are suitable to go straight in with the drill at a high seed rate in the spring to avoid stimulating a new flush of black-grass within the crop, he says.
    “Last year the best yields came from drilling on 20 March, but that will vary from season to season. You can comfortably wait until mid-April before drilling spring barley without compromising yield, so there’s no need to rush out if conditions aren’t suitable.”

    A clear favourite
    Mr Wilcox is clear that barley is the best spring cropping option for growers on heavy land with high levels of black-grass.
    Growing costs are around half those of winter wheat and it spreads workloads, provides a good entry for oilseed rape and offers the strongest choice of pre-emergence herbicide options, such as the extensions to use for flufenacet + diflufenican or flufenacet + pendimethalin, he says.
    Growers should opt for dual purpose varieties with good malting potential like RAGT Planet or KWS Irina and tailor management to deliver higher yields, he advises.
    “Spring barley yields of 8.5-10t/ha are easily possible on heavy land, but you need to push crops to achieve that. It may mean you’re applying 140-180kg/ha of nitrogen, but you can do that and still achieve malting specification as the higher yields dilute grain nitrogen, however these higher nitrogen rates cannot be used with older varieties like Propino or Concerto.”
    There has been renewed interest in spring beans over recent seasons, but Mr Wilcox says the crop is not generally suitable where black-grass is a problem. “Spring beans are not a competitive crop and there are very limited herbicide options.
    “If you want to grow beans, winter varieties sown around early November with a direct drill may be a better option. This at least gives the option of using propyzamide and clomazone-based herbicides to control black-grass, but seedbed conditions are of key importance.”

  4. Crop production specialists Hutchinsons continue to develop their business in Scotland, with the appointment of Iain Anderson as new Business Development Manager.
    Iain will be based at the Hutchinsons Kingsmuir depot near Forfar, which was opened in 2013. He will offer agronomy advice and sales of crop production inputs.

    Iain Anderson - HutchinsonsHaving grown up on the family farm near Monikie in Angus, Iain is very familiar with the area and is keen to use his local knowledge combined with national expertise to help growers maximise the output from their crops.
    Iain joins from Syngenta where he has most recently held the position of Field Technical Manager for the north of the UK. Iain was also responsible nationally for technical support to the Syngenta Barley Seed and Chemical portfolio.
    Prior to this, Iain was area manager for Syngenta in Central Scotland for 5 years, offering advice to farmers and agronomists and previous to this worked for 9 years conducting field trials across Europe where he gained a wide experience of agronomy across a range of crops.  
    Recognising that the people working within the business are the essential ingredient in maintaining and enhancing the quality of service offered to their customers is central to the Hutchinsons business. This philosophy, allied to technological advances and continuity of management, has proved to be a key strength and one that Mr Anderson is looking forward to being a part of.

    “Hutchinsons takes a dynamic, forward thinking approach to supporting growers in the production of quality crops and food in a sustainable and responsible manner and applying local research is a vital part of this, and I am excited about using the data from Regional Technology Centres to refine the agronomy advice I give to my clients,” says Mr Anderson.

  5. Hungry for knowledge on how to increase the output and efficiency of their AD operations growers from across the country gathered at the recent Hutchinsons Energy Crop Technology Open Day at Great Livermere, by invitation of Strutt and Parker Farms.
    Assessing the performance of a range of new varieties with a particular focus on maturity and harvest date, Colin Button, Hutchinsons seed manager, pointed out that this year maturity has been difficult to predict with the effects of planting date and variable seeding rates, which were highlighted in the plots.  

    “The range of development between the 15 varieties in the trial is really quite large. The earliest varieties showed good grain fill in the cobs with golden and firm grains, such as Pioneer’s P7892 and P7905.
    The trial clearly demonstrated the importance of selecting varieties best suited to not only the site, soil type, aspect and fertility but also the harvest date ideally required.”

    Harvest timing is critically important in order to prepare and leave soils in good condition for following crops noted Duncan Connabeer, Hutchinsons technical support manager.
    “Increasingly, AD operators are looking for quality from a variety in the shape of dry matter and starch. These factors effect gas yield and should be central to variety choice. “

    Guests from Agravis, a German company where the AD market is well established with over 8,000 AD plants, echoed this sentiment as German growers are increasingly looking at quality features of their maize varieties and earlier maturity in their variety choices.

    “Later maturing varieties will be good for sites and management systems that can cope with October or even November harvest dates and can be complimented with earlier varieties where the site and system require a different approach,” said Mr Joslowski, seed sales manager.

    Getting the crop off to a good start is crucial, emphasised Hutchinsons agronomist, Ed Stevens. “When faced with high numbers of weeds at cotyledon stage, early post emergence or pre-crop emergence bromoxynil and terbuthylazine have worked well.  Where following crops are not a concern terbuthylazine and mesotrione continue to be popular active ingredients.”  

    assessing the performance of a range of new varieties with a particular foc
    “A lesson from this season has been how reliant we are on crop competition for season-long weed control.  Most crops needed a follow up spray this year as further flushes of weeds germinated on moist sunlit soil between the rows. Due to a cold spring, crops did not grow away quickly allowing weeds a longer window to develop.”

    A combination of active ingredients foramsulfuron, iodosulfuron-methylsodium and isoxadifen-ethyl as a post-emergence herbicide have given high levels of control of blackgrass but care must be taken to limit the exposure of populations to this active to minimise the chances of resistance developing. Continuing to rotate maize around the farm as part of an integrated cultural control programme is vital for all herbicides Mr Stevens stressed.

    “Maize is often referred to as ’the hungry crop’ pointed out Rob Jewers, fertiliser specialist at Hutchinsons, reminding growers nutrition that correct nutrition is key to the production of maximum yield and quality.  

    “Our nutrition demonstration plots at Gt Livermere have given us an excellent opportunity to evaluate a wide range of nutritional inputs tailored specifically to maize. Maize nutrition begins in the seedbed and traditionally a starter fertiliser is incorporated at planting to encourage strong rooting and vigorous early growth. “

    narrow rows produced larger cobs
    “Phosphorous is particularly important at this stage and many of the seedbed products demonstrated in our plots contained Phosphate, and zinc, which is essential for early growth and photosynthesis,” he added.

    Also new for this year was a trial area to look at growing Maize under plastic, using different films with different varieties. With the cold spring early this year it was a good season to investigate this approach in the south, most commonly a tactic reserved for the colder north of the country.

    The results showed that a range of varieties grown under plastic in conjunction with Samco at the site developed two weeks ahead of the varieties in the open. Although they were drilled at the same time, the crop under plastic could have gone in two weeks earlier which would have moved harvest dates forward considerably.

    Technical manager at Hutchinsons, Dick Neale, demonstrated an investigation into row spacing questioning the conventional 750mm row spacings. 750mm rows were compared with 500mm rows and two plant populations 100,000 and 85,000 seeds/ha.
    Water with blue dye was infiltrated and holes dug to reveal that when planted at 500mm rows, the roots meet between the rows, fully utilising the soil moisture reserve and available nutrients while the 750mm rows left around 15% of the cropped area under-utilised by the roots.

    “One can see that the narrower rows are producing a larger cob yield,” said Mr Neale.
    Plants sampled from plots where seedbed fertiliser had been applied had visibly larger roots that held on to far more soil than the control plots suggesting better water and nutrition retention properties.

    All plots from the site have now been harvested and will undergo laboratory analysis which will be shared with clients in the following season.

    Anyone growing crops for AD will be interested to know of Hutchinsons Dry Matter Challenge which encourages growers to raise biogas yields and which will share best practice amongst the entrants.

  6. Every year harvest results bring surprises; this year is no exception with wheat yields at surprisingly high levels on many farms, even with the late and protracted last phase of harvest.

    These good yields generally and the breaking of the world wheat record with a yield of 16.5t/ha are thanks to the combination of favourable growing conditions says Dr Bob Bulmer, Hutchinsons trials and research manager.

    “In our trials work, responses to disease control at 1.77t/ha have been slightly below the long term average, but this figure hides some significant variations from site to site. The average response to fungicide was 2.93t/ha at Ludlow in Shropshire and 0.86t/ha at the Badwell Ash site in Suffolk, which was one of the driest sites this year.”  

    “Septoria was the main disease at all of the sites, yellow rust was present at all of the sites, even Cornwall, but it only had a yield impact on the most susceptible varieties. The most noticeable feature of this season was that the response to the T1 fungicide was large - this is unusual and it reflects the declining curative effect of fungicide treatments.”

    Group 1 and 2 results

    Seeds manager Colin Button points out that growers have been encouraged to consider moving to produce high yields of more “quality wheats”, the Group 1 and 2 types, gaining more value and possibly accessing potential export markets as well.

    “We are still waiting for the protein results from some of the nitrogen management plots and it will be interesting to see if it is possible to have both high yields and high protein levels. Producing yield and quality will be one of the aspects of crop management that we will be demonstrating in 2016.”

    “Lili has shown itself to be a great choice for a range of situations, giving a consistent performance across different soil types and fertility as well as location. Indeed, it ranked in the top 5 varieties on 5/8 sites.”

    “Anapolis, a Saaten Union feed wheat variety, has taken pole position in the average of all sites. As a result, it is a variety which we will feature more in 2016 and is ideal for later sowing after maize, for example.”

    Mr Button adds that the variety Reflection is in joint lead on the AHDB results to date and was the variety used by Tim Lamyman in his 16.5t/ha yield performance in the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) project.

    “In reality, these facts all indicate high level performance, however please do bear in mind the straw length of Reflection is very short, which may not suit growers where wheat straw is a requirement and the short straw could also make this variety less competitive with black grass.”

    Both men agree that the overall lesson is that getting the best from the site taking into account farm location, soil type and fertility, means attention to detail over your variety choice is worthwhile, and that variety selection should also be linked to the market for which you are growing.

    “Talking to your market outlet, your agronomist and seed specialist will help you make the best decisions to suit your individual circumstances, “says Mr Button.

    The range of yield differences between the top position and the bottom in our trials is also worth noting. This ranges from 2.20 t/ha to 4.38 t/ha and a mean of 2.77 t/ha.

    winter wheat varieties mean of all sites 2015 500
    Some more statistics from the 8 national sites:

    Lili in first place on 3/8 sites

    JB Diego in 2nd place on 2/8 sites

    Graham (Candidate variety) in 3rd place on 2/8 sites

    Lili and Graham both feature well in the AHDB results as well and the presence of JB Diego is no surprise, as it has shown consistent performance over a number of years.

  7. Earlier and more intensive soil sampling to accurately determine Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) risk ahead of planting is vital if growers are to beat this increasing problem, says leading agronomy group Hutchinsons.

    Although many growers are routinely testing soils for PCN, John Keer of Richard Austin Agriculture says there is still considerable scope to improve procedures.

    Soil sampling as early as possible can potentially make the biggest difference to managing the problem as this allows greater flexibility to alter crop rotation and grow something other than potatoes on fields where high populations are detected, says Dr Keer.

    “Many people will typically be sampling from now through the winter, but quite often this means it is too late to change the rotation next spring.

    “We are increasingly conducting more sampling in the preceding spring, up until the end of March or mid-April, with a view to altering cropping for the following year if the PCN population warrants it.”

    Even where land is believed to be PCN-free it is still worth testing fields well ahead of planting to confirm there are no hidden issues, he adds. “This is often a problem on rented areas thought to be virgin potato land, but may have had crops or potato waste on them in the past.”

    Build a long-term picture

    Sampling should be more intensive to build a better picture of the overall situation and reduce the risk of missing PCN hotspots within a field. That means ensuring samples do not represent any more than 1ha, Dr Keer continues.

    He also advises growers to GPS map the locations of soil samples, so that repeat future tests can be carried out on the same area to better gauge the success of changes to management practices in reducing PCN counts.

    “PCN management is not about managing it over just one crop. It has got to be a rotational plan based on an accurate measure of the problem in the first place and integrates a range of control options that include nematicides, resistant varieties, cover crops and longer rotations. By using an integrated management plan it should be possible to keep levels below 5 eggs per gram.”

    A similar view is shared by Hutchinsons agronomist Andrew Goodinson, who advises across 1,000ha of potatoes in Herefordshire.

    “Although we’re not seeing the really high egg counts that some other regions experience – early-20s per gram is typical - PCN is an increasing problem in this area that is being spread on machinery, such as harvesters, cultivation equipment and sprayers.

    andrew goodinson hutchinsons optim
    “Once hotspots develop they can spread very quickly, so we have to be much more proactive in soil testing fields we suspect could be at risk. Tests are more intensive than in the past, with one sample per hectare or even one per half-hectare where we think there’s a problem.”

    Mr Goodinson says even very low egg counts will warrant treatment with an integrated programme as this can prevent a more significant problem spreading. “If you have a high population, you’re better off avoiding growing potatoes on that land altogether.”

    He also believes in the benefit of early soil testing for PCN, but acknowledges that in some cases – especially where land is rented - growers may not know exactly which land potatoes will be grown on until relatively late in February or early March.

    PCN control key points

    •    Take soil samples early to allow cropping changes
    •    Aim for one sample per 0.5-1ha max
    •    Map sample locations
    •    Avoid spreading PCN by cleaning machinery if possible, removing volunteer potatoes, disposing of potato waste carefully
    •    Use integrated control measures, including:

    o    Resistant varieties
    o    Longer rotations
    o    Nematicides
    o    Cover crops (e.g. mustard)

    Alternaria has been more prolific than usual this season, especially in crops that have been under moisture stress, according to Mr Goodinson.

    “There’s been hardly any blight, but lots of Alternaria. We know from previous experience that varieties such as Markies, Vivaldi, Kind Edward and Melody are susceptible, but this year we have seen it across more varieties.

    “It seems to be areas of fields affected rather than whole fields and is season-related. Affected crops tend to senesce early, which means they’re losing potential yield, but it’s too early to tell the scale of any impact.”

    While Mr Goodinson has achieved good results from fungicide programmes targeted at Alternaria, based on actives such as difenoconazole, mandipropamid, mancozeb and fluazinam, he is aware of others who have found the disease harder to control.

    He suspects this difference may be down to variances between the two species of Alternaria; the predominant A. solani and A. alternate, although suggests more industry research is needed to better understand these differences and their impact in the field.

    “We’ve sent leaf samples for analysis to try and help determine exactly what is there and plan how to control it in the future.”

  8. impact of residual stacking on black grass controlTo date, relatively wet weather across much of the UK during July, August and September has resulted in moist soil conditions, ideal for weed germination says Dr David Ellerton, Hutchinsons technical development director.

    “Growers should ensure that they create seedbed conditions that maintain this moisture, promote weed germination and enable them to utilise glyphosate to reduce overall weed levels, not just black grass, before drilling. On the worst black grass fields, delaying drilling will optimise this opportunity.”

    He adds that to achieve successful weed control a suitable herbicide programme is crucial.

    “In most cases, programmes should begin with a pre emergence application using a combination of active ingredients. The mix should include flufenacet as the base ingredient, plus additional pendimethalin, diflufenican, picolinafen, flurtamone, prosulfocarb, tri-allate, flumioxazine or flupyrsulfuron, depending upon the field’s grass weed population.”
    “Pre emergence grass weed control is particularly important in winter barley, where there are few options available for post emergence application. Even fewer options are available for pre and post emergence weed control in winter oats and growers are likely to have to take advantage of EAMUs (formerly SOLAs), albeit at the grower’s risk.”

    Dr Ellerton believes that the choice of herbicide combinations should take in to account field-by-field knowledge of previous performance of products on grass weeds or, ideally, on the results of resistance tests.

    “Broad leaved weed spectrum should also be carefully considered in matching products to individual fields. Strategies for control of black grass, ryegrass and bromes are broadly similar and all of the above active ingredients offer good control of annual meadow grass, albeit at reduced dose rates.”

    “On a positive note for annual meadow grass, chlorotoluron has returned to the market – at a significantly reduced dose - in combination with diflufenican and pendimethalin. Varietal restrictions still apply, so it is essential to check tolerance before making any application. Until recently this product was only cleared post emergence of the crop from the 1 to 3 leaf stage up until the end of October. However the product has now received clearance in winter cereals (not oats) for use pre emergence up to before GS 30.”

     He reminds growers that whichever combination of active ingredients are chosen, it is vital that the first application is made pre emergence rather than delaying to post emergence of the crop. Trials have shown reductions in grass weed control of over 20% in some cases from a delay of only a few days.

    “When pre emergence applications are planned, growers should remember the importance of sowing at the correct depth to avoid crop damage. Drill-depth restrictions will vary between products but seed which is covered by 33mm of settled soil should be suitably protected for most products.”

    As a general principle, the more serious the grass weed infestation the higher the herbicide dose required and the greater the number of active ingredients that should be applied - a technique known as ‘stacking‘ he says.

    “This is particularly important when there is known resistance to post-emergence ALS inhibiting active ingredients, such as iodosulfuron, mesosulfuron or pyroxsulam. Where post emergence applications of ALS products with grass weed activity are necessary, they should be made once the majority of grass weeds are at 1 to 3 leaves and weather conditions are suitable for active growth.
     It is also important to include a residual component to extend the length of control.”

    “Applications made in the autumn are usually more consistent than those made in the spring, when target weeds are also larger and enhanced metabolism resistance is more of an issue. In addition, delaying until the spring usually results in lower yields, due to an extended period of weed competition prior to application.”

    “Nevertheless, timing trials with contact herbicides show very clearly that seedbed moisture, as well as temperature and weed size, is critical to achieve optimum control, so applications should only be made where conditions are appropriate.”

    Accurate spray application

    Delivering the product to the target via the sprayer is as important as choosing the right products to use advises Dr Ellerton.

    He adds that when the target is the soil, then spray quality is less critical and provided good and even coverage is achieved, a satisfactory result should follow. When the target is an emerged weed (grass or broadleaved), then in addition to ensuring active weed growth and dry leaves at application, attention should also be paid to suitable forward speed for good boom stability, spray quality which should be fine-medium and that the boom height is suitable to the type of nozzle being used e.g. 110°FF should run at 50cm above the target.

    “All of the above details can play a major part in determining optimum efficacy of autumn contact herbicides.”

  9. dr david ellerton hutchinsons optimFor any crop, good weed control is vital in ensuring maximum profitability as well as contributing to an overall anti resistance strategy says Dr David Ellerton, Hutchinsons Technical Development Director.

    Managing resistant weeds

    With ever increasing resistance in a range of grassweeds to ALS inhibitors including sulphonylureas (such as mesosulfuron/iodosulfuron, flupyrsulfuron and pyroxsulam) and to ACCase inhibitors, such as fenoxaprop and clodinafop, weed control in cereals is becoming increasingly difficult.
    However, the presence of break crops (e.g. oilseed rape and field beans) in the rotation does present the opportunity to use a wider range of products with alternative modes of action as part of a rotational anti-resistance strategy.

    Autumn 2014 showed the benefit of creating stale seedbeds, encouraging germination of a range of volunteers and grassweeds prior to drilling winter cereals - which could then be controlled with applications of glyphosate based products and further cultivations.

    “This approach not only reduced the grassweed and volunteer cereal populations, but also destroyed a significant number of resistant plants.”
    However, due to early drilling of the crop, oilseed rape growers do not usually have the same opportunity he notes which often leads to weeds emerging within the crop, resulting in early competition and consequent problems with their control.

    “Nevertheless, if we are in a position this autumn where there is adequate moisture in seedbeds, then this could lead to rapid grassweed germination and give growers the opportunity to burn off weeds prior to oilseed rape drilling.”

    Every effort should be made this autumn to utilise this vital cultural control method if at all possible.

    “While focused on the control of grass weeds and optimising performance from residual graminicides, a clear benefit from utilizing the ‘Micro-Wing’ establishment system is an overall reduction in weed populations, both grass and broad leaved. We have seen significant reductions in charlock, cranesbill and cleavers emerging within the crop at Brampton,” he adds.

    Pre-emergence herbicide use

    Dr Ellerton reminds growers that the first opportunity to apply selective herbicides in oilseed rape occurs within the first 48 hours after drilling (before the seed has the opportunity to chit) with the use of certain metazachlor based products.

    “If this opportunity is missed, application will have to wait until the fully expanded cotyledon stage of the crop.”

    He advises that whilst there are a range of products are available, product choice should be guided by the expected weed spectrum.

    “Metazachlor alone will control weeds such as chickweed, mayweed and speedwells and offers a limited effect on black grass. The addition of dimethanamid-P will give improved control of cranesbill, poppy, shepherds purse and charlock.”

    “Another option is the combination of quinmerac and metazachlor which adds cleavers, poppy, speedwells and red dead-nettle to the metazachlor susceptible weeds,” he says.

    ”A further alternative is to tank mix metazachlor based products with clomazone which offers additional control of cleavers, fools parsley, hedge mustard, shepherds purse and chickweed.

    “However it is important to remember that while metazachlor may be applied post emergence of the crop, clomazone should only be used as soon as possible after sowing, pre-emergence of crop and weed, or serious crop damage can result.

    He adds that other potential active ingredients include the ALS inhibitor imazamox, as found in Cleranda, as a means of controlling weeds such as charlock and oilseed rape volunteers in Clearfield® varieties of oilseed rape.

    “With this latter product it is vital that growers ensure the crop they are treating is a Clearfield® variety before spraying or they will destroy the crop. It is also essential to plan a strategy to control Clearfield® volunteers in following crops as they will be unaffected by ALS products which are often the usual methods of control.”

    Environmental impact management

    One consideration to bear in mind when applying some of these products is that metazachlor is regularly being reported at levels above that permitted under the Drinking Water Directive (DWD).

    Therefore, growers should be aware of the restrictions placed on the label of metazachor based products limiting applications to a maximum individual dose of 750 gai/ha and a total dose of 1000 gai/ha over a three year period in order to avoid metazachlor exceeding the DWD limit, he says.
    “In addition to this, stewardship guidelines have recently been issued to try to further reduce the risk of peaks appearing in water. This covers a number of strategies including use of a 6m grass buffer strip or 5m no-spray zone next to water, employing minimum tillage techniques moving only the top 4-6 cm, not applying if drains are flowing or heavy rainfall imminent and avoiding the use of metazachlor on drained fields after the end of September.”
    “A further approach is to replace some of the metazachlor with active ingredients such as dimethanamid or quinmerac, or utilize an alternative to metazachlor from the same group of chemistry, such as dimethachlor.”

    He adds that many growers will be applying metazachlor at a similar time to slug pellets, where metaldehyde is causing similar problems in water.  “The use of these active ingredients combined with issues around autumn applied propyzamide and carbetamide means that oilseed rape growers, in particular, will have to pay considerable attention to avoiding contamination of water this autumn, if we are to avoid further restrictions on the use of these products.”

    The ‘Micro-Wing’ establishment technique, developed at Brampton, has a major and positive impact in reducing the passage of herbicides and metaldehyde to field drainage systems. This improves the overall performance by retaining active ingredient where it can deliver best performance and reducing the incidence of drain and groundwater contamination.

    Avoiding weed competition

    Post emergence, volunteer cereals and susceptible grassweeds should be controlled as early as possible from the 1 to 2 leaf stage of the weed, before they begin to compete with the crop.

    “Effective products include a number of established graminicides such as fluazifop, propaquizafop, tepraloxydim or cycloxydim. A relatively recent addition to the armoury of grass weed actives is clethodim which has performed well in Hutchinsons trials, particularly on black grass.”

    “However it should be remembered that this product has major restrictions on tank mixing and sequence gaps, as well as a cut off for application at the end of October in order to avoid potential crop damage.”

    “Where grassweeds in a particular field are known to suffer from a high degree of resistance to fops and dims, an alternative to graminicides is to apply a low rate of carbetamide in combination with a silicon based wetter from mid-September, at the 3 to 4 leaf stage of the crop, to keep the grassweeds in check, followed by an application of propyzamide when soil conditions are suitable, normally from the start of November.”

    Dr Ellerton believes that the strength of Hutchinsons work at Brampton is that field based issues are demonstrated and, as many growers are now aware, late February germinating black grass is becoming a very real issue in WOSR crops. Sequencing planned applications of carbetamide into February is having a noticeable impact on the development of these late winter emerging plants.

    “Complete absence of emerging weeds is always the preferred outcome, but our work is highlighting the fact that black grass emergence will occur in peak germination periods and we must expect and plan for that. Minimising the impact of direct competition and seed return are sound objectives in a long term control strategy, whereas 100% control is not.”

    Early weed control in oilseed rape is a vital part of the strategy to maintain the profitability of this key break crop and is also crucial in reducing the weed burden in following cereals. Your local agronomist will be able to guide you as to the most cost effective approach on your farm and keep you updated on product developments, as well as ensuring minimum impact on the environment.

  10. Since the wet winter of 2012 one thing has become abundantly clear at the Hutchinsons black-grass site at Brampton; it is not possible to actively manage heavy soil where the drainage is inadequate.

    The UK yield plateau has been widely investigated in recent years but very few reports make reference to field drainage and this should be considered a vital component in our desire to move yields forwards again contends Dick Neale, technical manager for Hutchinsons.

    “The preference for black grass to seek out damp soils is well understood and at Brampton we have identified basic management strategies that need to be employed. These include the need to delay sowing, but we have two fields where failed field drains, installed during the 1950’s, have highlighted the frustrations of farming wet soil.”
    “Seedbed cultivation techniques bring no long-term solution, surface till, shallow or deep min till and ploughing have all been practised, but as the rain falls in late autumn and early winter the crops in these fields simply fail as roots increasingly find themselves in water logged soils to depth. “

    “As the water levels rise against the impervious lower clay soil, crop growth is impaired and slug grazing increases. Surface ponding in heavy rainfall events then sees a separation of the silt fraction as the weather pounds the surface soil which is unprotected by vigorous crop growth, plugging the soil surface pores - leaving another crop with failed patches.”

    For most UK soils, impervious clay at depth is the area to be addressed, he adds. The cultivated area of soil sees reasonable water movement throughout the profile via natural fissures, worm burrows and previous root passages but without effective movement of water from the lower clay fraction, drainage water will back up until it impacts on the growing crop and soil stability, as happened in autumn 2012 and has been repeated in these fields during the autumns of 2013 and 2014.

    Mr Neale has seen that in the wet areas at Brampton, the cause has now clearly been identified as a failure of the tile drainage system. “Inspection with a digger has revealed collapsed clay tile drains and no permeable back fill meaning that the past 60 years have seen the tiles encased in a tight layer of silty clay washed into place via drainage waters. Drainage water still follows the lines of the tiles but with no functioning outfalls and random collapses and blockages the result is unstable soils with frequent ponding.”
    “Deeper soil movement is often practised in an effort to improve the drainage of soils, this simply increases the speed of infiltration, it does not improve the movement of water from the field to a ditch. In clays, only good drainage pipes with permeable back fill can do that.”

    At Brampton the permeable layer of soil is around 450mm deep and natural drainage through this zone is generally good with natural fissuring, worm burrows and old root passages all playing their part. Around half this depth is regularly cultivated on many soils. At Brampton at depths below 450mm we are into impermeable clay and this is where natural water movement slows to a trickle, he says.

    “The autumn of 2012 highlighted clearly how vital good field drainage is. For many it has been a case of focussing on ditch clearance to allow still functioning field drains to empty unimpeded, for others the use of jetting has reinstated drain function but for many there has been a realisation that their old field drain installations are failing.”

    Data from North America

    Field drainage may have been ignored as a significant factor in the yield plateau in clay based soils, but 2012 Nuffield scholar Rob Burtonshaw, found some impressive yield improvement figures across North America where drainage of arable land is still a major feature in farming budgets annually.

    With ongoing land drainage featuring so prominently, there is frequent opportunity to measure yield pre and post drainage and in drained vs un-drained situations.
    For spring and winter cereals the yield response is between 33-38% - that would take the average UK winter wheat yield to in excess of 11t/ha and this is a data base extending back 20 years with 136,500data points.

    While overlaying this data to the average yield for the UK may seem rather simplistic, in reality heavy clay soils tend to yield above the UK average of 8.4t/ha so have even greater potential to increase yield in response to effective drainage.

    Beans have almost 30,000 data points over 20 years, recording a 21% yield increase and 10 years of rape data has recorded a 13% increase in yield.
    In soils with a consistent clay base, the installation of a well-planned mole system can bring relief from wet soils. GPS location and steering can result in some very efficient installations but understanding soil zones is critically important to avoid simply moving a wet soil problem from one area into another.

    Well drained soil is fundamental to efficient crop production and in calculating its value we should take into account increased yields comparable to the response to fungicides, easier working soils, improved seedbeds, reductions in slug populations, reductions in seed rates due to increased percentage survival, reductions in ‘wet land’ weeds ie black-grass, improved residual herbicide performance