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  1. Keeping in mind the issues that the current season has presented such as the significant disease pressure and lower farm gate prices, now is an ideal time to look at wheat varieties for autumn 2016, that will help to tackle these issues going forward, says David Bouch, of Hutchinsons.

    He believes that there are a number of new varieties that will be of interest, as well as some that will continue to be favoured because of their remarkable consistency.
     “Growers that may not have considered growing quality wheats in the past might now do so, as some of the new varieties do not present yield penalties.  There are two notable milling wheat varieties with very good disease resistance.”

    David Bouch of Hutchinsons

    “New for this autumn is RGT Illustrious, the highest yielding untreated Group 1 variety in the 2016/17 AHDB Recommended List. It also has excellent bread making credentials. Skyfall, also from RAGT, has a proven track record with a very solid disease profile, stiff straw, early maturity and is quick to develop, especially when drilled early. Skyfall is the only variety within the group that has orange wheat blossom midge (OWBM) resistance.”

    Of the Group 2 wheat varieties, Mr Bouch believes that KWS Siskin stands out by virtue of having the highest untreated yield compared to any other variety on the Recommended List. ”The variety’s septoria tritici resistance is second to none and it offers many end-market opportunities. As Siskin’s yield potential is comparable to the best, some growers may choose to treat it as a ‘barn filler’, with any subsequent quality premium being considered a bonus. Siskin performs well throughout the UK and in particular the south and south west, making it a variety that must be considered for this coming autumn.”

    “Of the new Group 3 biscuit wheats varieties, both Barrel and Basset from KWS offer little or no yield disadvantage to the very highest yielding group 4 wheat varieties. Both have OWBM resistance and are suitable for export and biscuit making. With the yield potential that these new varieties offer, there is a possibility that sales of Group 3 varieties will increase, having lost market share over recent seasons. However, there is only enough seed available for 1% of plantings for autumn 2016.”

    The proportion of soft Group 4 feed wheat varieties on the Recommended List have declined in favour of hard varieties. KWS Silverstone is now the highest yielding variety available, but its standing ability will need careful management, lending itself to later drilling. It is also suitable for lighter soils, says Mr Bouch.

    He suggests that another option and new for autumn 2016 is Graham from Syngenta. “This variety is high yielding with excellent foliar disease resistance and is the only other variety in this group that scores 7 for septoria tritici. Graham can be drilled early, where this is a requirement, and benefits from early maturity.”

    Of the older varieties, Mr Bouch says that JB Diego and Santiago continue to offer remarkable consistency, whilst Evolution offers excellent disease resistance and is notable in particular for its outstanding yellow rust resistance.

    Evolution offers excellent disease resistance and is notable in particular

    “As yellow rust pressure has been high this year, growers might mitigate this particular risk by choosing Evolution, as it also offers exceptional yield potential.”

    “Costello from Senova is a new variety that was limited in supply last autumn but worth consideration. Its strengths are different from competitors in that it has good all-round disease resistance, but with the addition of quite exceptional grain qualities. Specific weight is in excess of 80 and the Hagberg falling number is over 300. The specific weight characteristics could help to reduce unwanted claims against price or redirection charges,” he says.

  2. Bishop Burton College has won the 2016 Cereals Challenge having risen to the challenge of growing the most profitable crop of peas.

    Last year’s winner’s Easton & Otley College claimed second place and Harper Adams University came third.

    Teams from Newcastle University, The Royal Agricultural University, Harper Adams University, Bishop Burton College, Risheholme College and Easton & Otley College qualified in a competitive process for the Challenge, and were subsequently each allocated a plot at the Cereals site at Chrishall Grange Farm in Cambridge for which they have had complete responsibility over since February through to the Cereals Event.

    The team of three from Bishop Burton College who are studying for a Foundation degree in Agriculture secured their win by an attention to detail across all elements of the competition. The team goes away with a trophy and £1000 prize money to share between the team members plus an additional £500 for the College.

    Team captain Rhys Jones along with team members, Harry Torn and Shane Hardgrave, were thrilled with their win. “We didn’t know much about peas as a team initially so we had to source information from reference texts such as the PGRO Agronomy Guide, to gleaning information from the web as well as talking to our lecturers. We then pooled all of this information and agreed the recommendations as a team- and it obviously worked – we are really pleased with how the peas look,” says Rhys.

    “It is the first time that peas have been grown in the seven years that the Cereals Challenge has been running, in recognition of the UN declaring 2016 the International Year of Pulses, so we at the PGRO were delighted to be involved and support the Challenge,” says Roger Vickers, CEO of the PGRO.

    Judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, and Roger Vickers and Steve Belcher from the PGRO, the final results are based on  each team’s agronomic recommendations (evaluating their appropriateness and timeliness for each recommendation), input cost management, estimated crop yield and the quality, as well as harvesting advice.  

    Dick Neale puts down the teams win to an attention to detail across every area of their programme. “The team chose a profitable variety, the marrowfat Sakura from the start, and their herbicide, fungicide, insecticide and nutritional recommendations were well thought through and justified- and getting this right on paper was translated into how well the plot looked,” says Dick Neale.
    Keith Norman agrees and says that the team got it right from the start.” The crop established well, the seed rate was kept at its correct rate of 74seeds/m² and the team got the early nutrition right, which on the light soils of Crishall Grange is crucial.”

    Set up as a joint initiative between Hutchinsons and Velcourt to offer an insight into careers in agronomy or farm management, the Challenge has proved a success in its seven year history with 5 students joining Hutchinsons successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme, whilst Velcourt has employed 6 students as farm managers.

    Jacqueline Tilney, part of this year’s Easton & Otley team, says that the Challenge has really piqued her interest in agronomy as a career. “I’ve had an interest in agronomy but being part of the Challenge has really confirmed this, as I’ve had a chance to see first-hand how decisions on inputs and crop management can have such an impact on the crop -  and that’s fascinating.”

  3. Tissue tests from the Hutchinsons Regional Technology Development sites have identified a deficiency in potash this year, reports Dr Bob Bulmer, trials & research development manager.

    The findings show the results for nitrogen and phosphate are at satisfactory levels but the concentrations of potash in plant tissues are consistently low in both winter wheat and winter barley.  These findings mirror those from 2015.

    Magnesium and sulphur levels are also low at some of the sites, particularly for winter wheat.

    “Potash is an element that we have been investigating for two years at our Regional Development Sites, and as part of the Yield Enhancement Network project (YEN), “explains Dr Bulmer.

    “Plants have a high potassium requirement that is very similar to nitrogen and five times that of phosphate. It has been calculated that winter wheat will require on average 5kg/ha/day of potash during May compared to 2kg/ha/day for nitrogen and  1kg/ha/day for phosphate.”

    “The factors causing this potash deficiency are poorly understood but according to the 2015 British Survey of Fertiliser Practice potash applications have declined from a high of 45kg/ha in 1983 to a current level of 30kg/ha. “

    “In addition, only 50% of tillage crops received potash in 2015. Yields of wheat have improved in the last two years increasing nutrient demand, which may reach 350-400kg/ha of potash over the lifetime of the crop.”

    Potash is a mobile nutrient and autumn applications may move down the soil profile away from the root zone restricting the availability of this nutrient, so there can often be a an issue to get the timing of application correct,  he says.

    “Winter wheat has a high demand for potash in the spring and summer months which may exacerbate this problem.”


    winter wheat potash

    What are the benefits of potash?


    Potash (as elemental potassium) is used by plants to activate over eighty cellular enzymes and it plays an important role in helping plants to moderate environmental stresses, particularly drought stress and resistance to fungal diseases.  

    Potassium helps to counteract the negative effects of excess nitrogen by strengthening stems and improving disease resistance. Good potassium nutrition is also associated with bold grains.

    Studying the work of the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) has revealed some very interesting details, showing potassium could be a major reason why crops don’t get as close as they could to achieving their maximum potential yield for the soil type they are being grown on.  

    “We have been using granular applications of potash around GS31/32 to deliver potassium to the plant and then plan to top up further with foliar treatments in the period between flag leaf and ear-emergence,” adds Dr Bulmer.

    Stimulated by the YEN work, the Noy Brothers who farm over 600 acres at Chipping Hill Farm in Buntingford, have been using field scale inputs and observations with potash to boost potassium levels in the crop to fill the shortfall that rapid crop growth in the spring and summer creates.

    Hutchinsons are investigating the benefits of potash in replicated small plot trials, by looking at spring and summer applications of potash in two forms, as solid fertiliser and also as foliar sprays.

    “A foliar spray applies less potash compared to solid fertiliser but it may be used more efficiently by the plant because the potassium has a more direct route that isn’t influenced by soil moisture or rooting.”

     “The tissue results are indicating that this is a good year to examine potash nutrition,” says Dr Bulmer.

    If you are interested in this topic or the Yield Enhancement Network, Hutchinsons will be hosting farmer open days at our Regional Technology Centres during June and early July.  

  4. Average herbicide spend has doubled over the past six years yet black-grass is still on the increase in many areas, highlighting an urgent need for farmers to adopt more effective solutions.

    That is the warning from leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons ahead of its annual open days at the National Black Grass Centre of Excellence in Brampton, Cambridgeshire on 22-23 June 2016.
    Technical manager Dick Neale says a typical arable farm now spends around £180/ha on herbicides, yet black-grass and herbicide-resistant populations in particular, are becoming ever more prevalent. Indeed, resistant black-grass has been confirmed in 34 counties in England and is on the increase in Scotland and Cumbria too, according to industry figures.

    However, six years of in-depth trials at the Hutchinsons site prove high populations of resistant black-grass can be significantly reduced with a range of cultural and chemical options that are financially and environmentally more sustainable than just costly multiway stacks of chemistry.

    Emerging black-grass levels have been slashed from 700 per square metre pre-sowing six years ago to just 60 today and can be maintained at this level long-term, says Mr Neale, who will reveal details to this success at the open days later this month.

    “Since we started the trials in 2010, average spending on herbicides [across the industry] has roughly doubled, which is unsustainable from both an economic and resistance management point of view.

    “Yet we’ve shown that employing effective cultural measures throughout the rotation followed by a well-timed residual herbicide is the best way to maximise black-grass control.”
    Mr Neale says the most effective cultural options include:

    • Rotation and crop choice: Spring cropping (especially barley) offers a wider window for autumn black-grass control. Select competitive crops and varieties (e.g. hybrid barley) that can establish well in the farm conditions and compete with black-grass
    • Seed rate: higher rates boost crop competition – up to 450 seeds/m2. Allow for lower establishment when sowing late or if spring cropping on heavy land
    • Delay drilling: allows more time for black-grass to emerge in autumn and be controlled before a crop is sown (e.g. through stale seedbeds) – around 80% of black-grass emerges between September to October
    • Shallow cultivations: restrict cultivations to the top 50mm of soil to maintain a “kill zone” where black-grass can be stimulated to emerge and be controlled. Avoid bringing seed up from depth by ploughing or subsoiling.

    Employing a range of effective cultural measures will reduce black-grass to a level that gives herbicide chemistry a better chance of achieving the required level of control, providing it is applied at the right time in optimum conditions, Mr Neale continues.

    In winter wheat, pre-emergence Liberator (diflufenican + flufenacet) applied to winter wheat sown late on 23 October at 450 seeds/m2 delivered 93% control. This was only achieved by careful application timing after reducing black-grass to a manageable level (52 plants/m2) with cultural measures, he says.

    “Flufenacet offers good control and excellent crop safety, which is vital if we are to avoid taking the vigour out of the crop and reduce its ability to compete. Utilising Liberator/Vigon/Crystal pre-em and then following up post-em using one or two other active ingredients with the focussed use of an adjuvant will get us to almost 100% control.”

    Depleting the seedbank through such an integrated approach and maintaining low populations with careful crop management - tailored to individual sites - is the only effective way of controlling black-grass as chemical options become more limited, he adds.

    Discover more about the Brampton black-grass research and what it could mean for your farm at the open days on Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 June 2016. Visit www.hlhltd.co.uk/brampton2016.html to book your place.

    The website also includes a series of six short cultivation videos featuring Dick Neale demonstrating the effects of ‘conditioning crops’ and different soil management regimes on soil health. See www.hlhltd.co.uk/cultivationvideos.html