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  1. The 2016 Cereals Challenge takes on a new twist as for the first time in its seven year history, six teams from a range of colleges and universities, compete to grow a pea crop of their own choice.

    In what is a change from past challenges where all the students grew the same variety of crop, this year, the student teams have been given the opportunity to choose the pea type and variety according to market.

    Successful teams from Newcastle University, The Royal Agricultural University, Harper Adams University College, Bishop Burton College, Riseholme and Easton & Otley College qualified in a competitive process against a total of 12 entries to win a place in this year’s Challenge.
    Last year’s tightly contested Challenge saw Easton & Otley College take the prize for the second year running, winning a trophy and a prize of £1,000 to share, as well as £500 for the College.  

    Six plots have been officially handed over to the student teams to grow their crop of peas from drilling through to the final judging during the 2016 Cereals Event at Chrishall Grange farm in Cambridge, the site of the 2014 Cereals event.
    The competition will look at each team’s agronomic recommendations (based on appropriateness and timeliness of recommendations), input cost management, estimated crop yield and the quality, as well as the marketing of the crop. The competition will be judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, Roger Vickers of the PGRO, Claire Domoney from the John Innes Centre, as well as Robert Law, farmer host for the Cereals event.

     Teams will need to think about establishment of the crop, which is critical, to the overall gross margin. As real time agronomists, they will need to plan their input and management programmes according to the needs of the crop within the challenges of the season and environment, but also to justify these recommendations with an eye on the final gross margin.

    six teams will battle it out to grow the best crop of peas in the 2016 cere

    “Their first task following this was to think about drilling dates and rates, as well as any early nutritional recommendations, and to present this information to the audience, “says Andrew Mortimer of Velcourt, who will be responsible for the day to day management of the plots.
    Team captain, Jackson Maplethorpe of last year’s runner up, Riseholme College, is feeling confident about this year’s Challenge.” We have chosen to grow a crop of Sakura marrowfat peas which we are planning to drill mid-March  at a rate of 315kg/ha and a depth of 5cm. We will roll the soil straight after drilling, and apply our chosen pre-emergence herbicide then as we have learnt that getting the establishment right will be key to producing a quality crop.”

    Paul Hobson of Hutchinsons and Nick Shorter of Velcourt who launched the Cereals Challenge to the students underlined the success of the Challenge in offering an insight into careers in agronomy or farm management, and also as an opportunity to meet youngsters looking for a career with either company.

    Since the Challenge was launched Hutchinsons has taken on 5 students into their successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme and Velcourt has employed 6 students as farm managers.

    Follow the 2016 Cereals Challenge on Twitter @CerealChallenge where you can meet the teams and keep up-to-date with what is happening on the plots.

  2. After one of the mildest winters on record growers must resist the temptation to drill spring crops too soon and risk compromising weed control and emergence, leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons warns.

    Soil temperatures are several degrees above normal at 6-8° Celsius even on heavier land, so there is scope for drilling earlier than normal, providing crops can grow strongly and conditions allow pre-emergence herbicides to be applied effectively, says technical manager Dick Neale.

    Forcing seedbeds when underlying soil conditions are too wet or drilling ahead of a return to cold weather results in poor establishment and risks weed populations outpacing crops. With so few chemical control options available in spring crops, particularly post-emergence, such a situation must be avoided, he warns.

    “For any spring crop, the key is not to drill too early. Be patient and wait for soils to warm up and dry out enough for a good seedbed and for crops to germinate and grow ahead of any emerging weeds.

    “Remember weeds such as black-grass germinate as soon as soil is moved, so ideally the first and only cultivation should be with the drill.”
    Barley and beans are the two main spring crops grown and each has its own challenges in terms of weed control.

    Spring barley

    The competitiveness of spring barley and wide choice of approved chemistry means there are few major concerns for weed control, says Mr Neale.
    But even so, it is still worth waiting until conditions are right to ensure seedbed losses do not undermine weed control, especially where spring barley is grown on heavy land for black-grass control.

    dont drill too early as weed control could be compromised says dick neale

    “Herbicides require a partnership with a good competitive crop to work well, so don’t underestimate field losses. You’ve realistically got to be working on 30% losses or 70% plant establishment on heavy, cold soils, which means sowing 500seeds/m2 to get the 350-400 established plants/m2 needed to control black-grass effectively.”

    Residual herbicides should work well when applied during the cooler, damper conditions associated with early spring drilling, but rolling seedbeds post-drilling can help maximise efficacy, he notes.

    “The type, rate and mix of pre-em will be determined by the weed spectrum of the land you’re on.”

    Broadleaf weeds are relatively straightforward to control in spring barley given the range of sulfonylurea-based herbicides, diflufenican, or pre-emergence products based on flufenacet or pendimethalin, notes Norfolk-based Hutchinsons agronomist Alistair Shepherd.
    “Options are a lot more restricted in spring wheat and pulses though, so any spring cropping must be planned carefully.”

    He reminds growers to factor possible following crop or cultivation restrictions into product choice, especially where sulfonylurea-based products are used in spring cereals for example.

    Allowing weed flushes to emerge and be sprayed off with glyphosate before drilling can be a good way of reducing the reliance on limited in-crop chemistry and allows product choice to be more accurately targeted to the weed spectrum present, Mr Shepherd continues.

    “In many spring crops this is driven by polygonum germination, which is determined by day length, so be patient and don’t rush in.”
    Pre-emergence herbicides are key to any effective weed control strategy, especially where herbicide resistance is present, he adds. “For example, if you’ve got poppies with sulfonylurea resistance then a pendimethalin-based pre-em can help. Look carefully at exactly what needs controlling and which actives are best placed to help.”

    Winter oats are another weed to watch, especially if reduced sensitivity to fops and dims is present, Mr Neale adds. Pinoxaden is the only option approved for wild oat control in spring barley and growers need to be sure it will work otherwise undue pressure will fall on residuals to deliver control, he says.

    Spring beans

    Weed control in spring beans is more complicated than in barley given the crop is naturally less competitive and there are fewer approved herbicide options.

    Delaying sowing until soils conditions are warm enough for rapid establishment is crucial and growers should also improve crop competitiveness by using higher seed rates, Mr Neale says.

    “Many people traditionally sow 40-45 seeds/m2, but that’s the established plant population you should aim for. Field losses can easily be 15-20% with early sowing and perhaps 5-10% for later crops, which means sowing nearer 50 seeds when conditions are good and perhaps 70/m2 in poor seedbeds.”
    Pulses are particularly susceptible to poor seedbeds, so growers must avoid forcing cultivations and drilling, adds Mr Shepherd.

    He acknowledges there is a fine balance between drilling later into warm soils to help crops establish quickly, versus the increased risk of rapidly drying soils reducing the effectiveness of pre-emergence herbicides, which are so important for weed control in spring crops.

    Encouraging a flush of weeds that is sprayed off with glyphosate before drilling is a good option when conditions allow, he notes. “But really it comes down to careful planning and managing autumn cultivations to create the best possible conditions for establishing spring crops.”

    Mr Neale adds: “Post-emergence options in spring beans are pretty poor so compromising the full dose of pre-em is definitely a no-no. It’s still worth using a pre-em where crops are drilled later, but don’t spend a fortune on it.”

    Bentazone is the main post-em option in spring beans.

    Where growers are worried about pre-em efficacy, Mr Neale says spring peas may be a better alternative to beans, as they offer an extra approved herbicide option in the form of MCPB. “It’s only one extra product, but can make all the difference to the level of weed control that can be achieved.”
    Pea drilling can also be delayed until April which allows time for a flush of black-grass sprayed off ahead of drilling, he says.


  3. Hutchinsons and South West Crop Care Limited (SWCC) are delighted to announce a collaboration between their two businesses.
    SWCC is a long established, privately owned, farm supply and crop consultancy business, entering its 27th year of trading across the counties of Devon, Somerset and Dorset.

    ray sweet swcc ltd
    “We offer a full crop agronomy and agrochemicals service to our customers, as well as providing fertiliser and seed”, says Ray Sweet, director of SWCC. “Our ethos at SWCC is based on ‘Turning knowledge into value for our Customers’, and we see this collaboration very much as taking a step forward in being able to secure the latest information, research advice and product supply for our customers, now and into the future.”

    Hutchinsons Chairman, David Hutchinson, adds “This is a very exciting and positive development for the Hutchinsons business. We have a strong business base in the South West of England, with depots in Devizes in Wiltshire and Truro in Cornwall. This collaboration reflects our desire to develop our support for growers in Devon, Somerset and Dorset. We very much look forward to working closely with Ray Sweet and his Devon based business, which complements us geographically as well as with our technical expertise and product strengths.”