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  1. For the second year running a team of four students from Easton & Otley College in Suffolk, has won the Cereals Challenge.

    Teams from Newcastle University, The Royal Agricultural University, Nottingham University, Bishop Burton College (Riseholme Campus), Writtle College and Easton & Otley College qualified in a competitive process to manage a plot of rye from mid-February until the day before the Cereals event, when they were judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, and Alastair Priestley,  managing director of Patrick Dean Ltd, this years’ Cereals host farm.

    The team of four from Easton & Otley College who are studying for a Foundation degree in Agricultural Management secured their win by a comfortable 4 mark lead over runners up Bishop Burton College (Riseholme Campus), and 13 points over the Newcastle University team who took third place.

    cereals challenge 2015 winner otley college

    The Easton & Otley College team goes away with a trophy and £1000 prize money to share between the team members plus an additional £500 for the College.
    “Growing rye proved to be more difficult for the teams than in previous years when they had more mainstream Cereals to grow; this meant that they had to go out of their comfort zones to find out about growing and marketing the crop, “said Dick Neale of Hutchinsons during the prize giving at the Cereals event.

    “There were big differences between the plots particularly with regards to levels of Nitrogen applied, timings of application and product choice. Disease management also proved interesting as some teams treated for diseases such as Rhyncosporium which is not a disease of rye!”

    “The Easton & Otley team won by sheer attention to detail across every area of their programme. Rye needs a good PGR programme and they got this right, nutritional recommendations were also appropriate. However what really stood out was the time and effort that the team put into the justifications for their actions – which is an important part of the challenge,” added Keith Norman of Velcourt.

    This year’s winners worked closely together and agreed all inputs and management decisions alongside the guidance of lecturer Anthony Wilson, who believes that winning the Cereals Challenge will provide the students with the confidence to look at careers in agronomy or farm management that they may not have previously considered.

    Ryan Thompson, winning team captain agrees and is keen to encourage other students to join the challenge in the future. “It’s been a fantastic learning experience and has given us all a flavour of real time agronomy - we are absolutely delighted to have won.”

    Since the Challenge was launched six years ago, Hutchinsons has taken on 5 students into their successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme whilst Velcourt has employed six students.

  2. droneResults from the largest nationwide survey on the use of precision technology, conducted by Hutchinsons, has revealed detailed insight into the level of uptake of precision farming across UK farms, how growers use precision farming systems and how they intend on using them in the future.  

    Over the last decade the interest in precision technology for more accurate machine steering, controlling how we apply products to the fields and field mapping & recording has undoubtedly increased says Oliver Wood, precision technology manager with Hutchinsons.

    The objective of the Hutchinsons survey was to test these theories and to provide some definition to how farmers are using precision technology on farm and where they see future developments.

    With over 1,100 responses from farms of all sizes and from across the UK, the results showed that 70% of respondents already use some form of precision technology. However, such is the interest in the subject that 30% of all respondents to the survey currently have no precision technology on their farms but wanted to engage with the subject.

    Despite current low commodity prices, over half of all respondents indicated that they are planning on expanding their precision agronomy operations in the next 12 months. Farm size is clearly less of a barrier to the increasing interest in precision technology with 42% of those farming less than 300 hectares.
    However the survey shows that as farms get bigger, more of them are engaging with precision technology systems. GPS steering was unsurprisingly by far the most popular use of precision technology with 55% of those surveyed already using it across their farms - most likely due to the benefits being clearly visible and now widely understood.

    GPS steering was also the most popular development on smaller farms, although Mr Wood notes that for farms under 300 ha there is a much smaller difference between those using GPS steering and variable product applications (fertiliser, seed, crop protection products).

    “This might indicate that these smaller businesses are utilising the variable application controls that exists in most GPS steering control boxes, making the most of their large capital outlay.”

    With regards to specific detail on how variable rate applications were used the survey confirmed that base fertiliser was well ahead of nitrogen, seed and other crop protection products.    

     “Growers have clearly accepted this opportunity taking advantage on savings to be made but with a focus on boosting output. The second hand machinery market is also making some of this technology more financially accessible.”

    Seed rates were being varied by over 40% of respondents, whilst nitrogen is not as clear cut with 30% being applied using satellite imagery and 20% by tractor mounted imagery, although Mr Wood adds that there is a want to get variable nitrogen applications right as it is the largest input cost on farm.
    Interestingly the survey highlighted that yield maps were not being used by over half of farmers.      “This is because many growers are not sure what to do with them, and there is a lack of good software to analyse the data.”

     However, almost half of all respondents, across all farm sizes, agreed that more technical advice is required for all aspects of variable product applications. “It’s key to remember that the agronomy of the crop hasn’t changed, even though the way that products are being applied is. Once the data is collected it, how it is interpreted is vital to ensure that yields are maximised and the full potential of precision technology is realised,” says Mr Wood.

    Shropshire farmer and Nuffield scholar Andrew Williamson has seen the benefits of this approach on his 346ha arable farm in Shropshire. Having studied how growers across the world are using precision technology, Mr Williamson is clear that precision agriculture can only work when based on good agronomy.

    “We make use of variable rate applications for seed, fertiliser and other inputs as well as yield mapping, auto guidance and sectional sprayer control – but all of this information is used to push the farm to its potential by ensuring that every part of every field is performing at its optimum.”

    “For example, it has meant that we have been able to pinpoint the least productive areas and take those out completely – and these are the areas that we manage in HLS which requires a different approach.”

  3.  

    The last few seasons have seen some real changes in the way we need to think about potato blight says Darryl Shailes, Hutchinsons root crop technical manager.

    “2007 was the first real blight epidemic to get the industry thinking that things might be changing. If we cast our minds back, blight came in earlier than normal with severe infections widespread by about mid-June. The disease pressure did eventually calm down as the weather changed, but for a while no-one really knew how to react and blight product supply was getting very tight.”

    He says that during the peak of the epidemic in 2007 many fields were being sprayed every 4-5 days with multiple tank-mixes and still the blight was only just being held.  “Luckily the weather eventually intervened - it became hot and dry and the blight stopped almost in its tracks.”

    There was a lot of R&D commissioned by The Potato Council as a result of the problems we encountered in 2007 and the ‘Blight Scout’ scheme was set up. This was probably the first time that the different strains of blight were brought to the attention of anybody beyond the academic research institutes.

    “Along with fears that we were getting sexual recombination between the two mating types that were identified (A1 and A2), it was first muted that they were forming resting spores that could overwinter. Since then, thanks to all the research that has gone on, we have come to understand a little more.

    Mr Shailes notes that the dominant strains over the last few years have been A2 Blue 13 and A1 Pink 6. And that the evidence for overwinter resting spores has not been found, although some of the strains are able to sexually recombine in the laboratory.

    He says that these newer stains of blight are however more aggressive, able to operate over a wider range of climatic conditions and some are resistant to blight fungicides such as Metalaxyl.
    “Since 2007 we have had 2 other very significant blight epidemics – 2012 and 2014. Both of these epidemics, in common with 2007, started very early in the season, with many crops being infected almost as soon as they came through the ground.”

    So what does this mean for 2015?

    No one can predict whether or not we will have a bad blight year, although what we can say is that modern potato blight does not seem to have heard of a ‘Smith Period’ says Mr Shailes.

    A full Smith Period occurs if, on each of 2 consecutive days, the minimum air temperature is at least 10°C and there are a minimum of 11 hours with a relative humidity of at least 90%.

    “This was the infection criteria defined by Mr Smith who worked for the Agricultural department of the Met office in the 1970’s. We know that the modern blight strains can operate outside of these parameters, but the Smith Period has yet to be re-defined.”

    “Unfortunately, most of the freely available forecasting systems such as ‘Blight Watch’ still use Smith criteria. However, we do know that in dry weather blight pressure will be low, as leaf wetness is a critical factor that is not even mentioned in a Smith Period. Also, by its very nature, a Smith Period is historic and a reaction to Blight pressure, whereas we need to have a more predictive model if we are not just to set a programme at the start of the season and spray every 7 days.”

    “In recent years in trials and in the field, Hutchinsons have been able to see that when blight is very active, it can be difficult to control and single actives are usually not enough.”

    “In our trials conducted by Dr John Keer of ‘Richard Austin Agriculture’ and also in the Agrisearch trials sponsored by the manufacturers, it has been the products or mixtures that contain contact or protectant actives, mixed with others that offer translaminar or kickback activity, that have been the most effective. “
    A good example and one that has done very well in Hutchinsons  trials in recent years is ‘Hubble’, a mixture of dimethomorph, a translaminar active with some kick back activity and fluazinam, a contact protectant active.

    Mr Shailes adds that when the epidemic occurs early in the season this is combined with very rapid canopy expansion and, as has already been mentioned, Metalaxyl, the only very systemic active currently available for blight control in the UK, does not control Blue 13 - which is completely resistant.

    “Under high early season pressure, to counteract the lack of truly systemic products and the increased aggressiveness of the new blight strains able to operate in cooler weather, we must be prepared to spray at shorter intervals (sometimes less than 7 days), with mixtures of actives or products that contain kickback and contact materials.”

    “So for 2015 if we consider what we know and are prepared to react accordingly, as many did in 2014, then we should still be able to effectively control blight. However, if we sit back and wait for a Smith Period to come along, then do not be surprised to find blight in crops if the weather is conducive to infection.”