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  1. 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.”

  2. 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.

  3. 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.