The first results from the Hutchinsons Fenland potato demonstration have provided a fascinating insight into the unique agronomic characteristics and resilience of Fenland soil and paved the way for further investigations in 2018.
» Listings for 2017
Andrew Goodinson of Hutchinsons has been announced as the Agronomist of the Year at the 2017 Food and Farming Industry Awards.
With UK agriculture facing some of the greatest uncertainty in recent history, arable farmers must get a tighter grip on production costs and crop agronomy in order to remain profitable post-Brexit.
The UK wine industry is going from strength to strength, with one million vines planted this year and one million planned for next year. According to UK Wine Producers Ltd (UKWP) which was formed this year in July as a result of unifying the UK Vineyards Association and the English Wine Producers, there are now 501 separate vineyards, 2,330 hectares under vines, plus 133 wineries and/or wine producers, producing 5 million bottles of wine in the UK. Chris Cooper, a specialist agronomist for the distributor Hutchinsons is also retained by the UKWP to provide technical support and is well aware of what it takes to grow a successful crop under UK conditions. “Top class agronomy is vital to get the best from the crop and, with many new entrants likely in the future; there is a greater need to offer a professional helping hand throughout the season. The UK industry is said to continue to expand and is said to grow by 50% by 2020. UK growers are taking accolades and prizes with regularity. Hopefully more UK produced wines will be selected for the Christmas season.”
Chris explains that this advice goes back well before the crop is planted. “Planting systems and variety selection are important for the wine to be produced and in the UK the top varieties we grow are Chardonnay (23% of area planted), Pinot Noir (22% of area planted) and Bacchus (8%). “Bacchus is grown almost exclusively in the UK as it suits our growing conditions particularly well. Just as in New Zealand where the Sauvignon Blanc grape transformed the New Zealand wine industry, so Bacchus could do the same for the UK. Another grape variety that has hit the headlines this year is AlbariÅo. This variety is usually associated with wet climate of North West Spain in Galicia. But this year a Chapel Down AlbariÅo wine made from grapes grown in 2014 in Sandhurst, Kent outperformed those of Galicia in a blind wine tasting in Madrid.”
Each month growers need to focus on different aspects of agronomy – pruning in the winter, diseases control, pest control, weed control and nutrition in the spring and summer and harvesting and wine making in the autumn.
“Each season requires expert advice on agronomy, which at Hutchinsons we provide. Keeping up with registrations in vines is challenging enough and I get involved in submitting applications for EAMU’s for the industry which will allow more products to be used in cost-effective grape growing. With potentially many new entrants coming into wine growing, it is a lot more than just deciding to get involved and planting up. There are a lot of technical skills required to make sure that you make the best of what you have got,” says Chris Cooper.
As one of eight young farmers chosen to be ambassadors for British Farming, young farmer and Hutchinsons agronomist Ryan Came-Johnson took part in the Lord Mayor’s Show in London on the 11th November.
Mr Came-Johnson paraded past over half a million people who lined the three mile procession through the City of London as The NFU, the Worshipful Company of Farmers and New Holland joined together to showcase modern farming as a cutting-edge, forward thinking industry.
“I was part of a team that paraded through the city with a New Holland combine harvester and T7.270 tractor. We were there to help spread the #backbritishfarming message and the spectacle of large machinery manoeuvring through the streets of the capital city drew a lot of attention from the public.’’
“What an incredible experience it was, it was so exciting to be part of something so positive for farming. I hope that we have shown to as many young people that there are exciting careers available in agriculture, and that we are leading the way in producing good food for a thriving population, in a sustainable way.”
Ryan was chosen in response to twitter campaign driven by the NFU to find eight young farmers all of who come from different farming backgrounds.
As well as working as a full-time agronomist for Hutchinsons, he holds a farm tenancy with Coodes Estate in Porthleven near Helston, Cornwall, and will be lambing 330 ewes this coming spring.
“I don’t come from a farming background, “he explains, “but after doing a degree in Bioveterinary Science, I wanted a slight change but knew I wanted to work more directly in farming and that’s when I decided to join the Hutchinsons Foundation programme and train as an agronomist, and have been working as an agronomist for five years now.”
“I was then offered the opportunity of taking up the tenancy at Trewithick Farm, and the opportunity to balance my agronomy responsibilities with farming in my own right, and I have never looked back. It gives me a very balanced view of the industry as I see farming from all angles both with my role as an agronomist and also as a farmer.”
“I hope that in taking the path that I have and being in a highly visible situation such as the Lord Mayor’s Show that I can encourage other young people to involve themselves in farming. I am proud to be backing British Farming and all that it stands for.”
Increasing incidences of both Light Leaf Spot and Phoma over the last couple seasons in oilseed rape, so what is the best strategy to ensure this does not happen again this season?
Dr David Ellerton, Hutchinsons technical development director, believes that the first line of defence should be to choose a variety which shows good resistance to both of these diseases by consulting the AHDB Recommended Lists for information.
“This will reduce the risk of disease infection and also give some leeway in fungicide timings,” he says.
He points out that in order to help decide fungicide timings this autumn, phoma risk forecasts will be available from Rothamsted Research Station, which are based on region and incidence of phoma canker last season and rainfall in September and October.
“Phoma spores need 20 days or more rain from August 1st in order to mature on stubble. More rainfall than this causes release of mature spores, which are then able to infect the crop – if there is a minimum of 4 hours leaf wetness.”
“From infection, it takes an accumulated mean temperature of 120 day degrees (i.e. 6 days at 20ËC, or 10 days at 12ËC) for a mature spore to produce the characteristic leaf spot, from which the mycelium will migrate down the petiole of the leaf and into the central stem. “
“At low temperatures, this migration may be only 1mm per day, but it is essential to control the disease before it reaches the stem, as control then becomes almost impossible and stem cankers will result later in the season,” he says.
All rape crops should be monitored and fungicides applied once crops have reached a threshold of 10-20% of plants infected with phoma leaf spot and the risk forecast will indicate when this is likely to occur says Dr Ellerton.
He advises that priority should then be given to spraying small plants of varieties with high susceptibility to phoma, where there is a shorter distance for the mycelium to travel before reaching the stem.
“Sprays applied for phoma control will also inhibit the other key autumn disease, Light Leaf Spot (LLS). However if no spray has been applied for phoma, then a routine protectant fungicide should be applied for LLS in late October, or early November - although symptoms are often not found in crops until late November, or December.”
“Even if a phoma spray has been applied, a second spray may also be required, particularly if development of phoma leaf spots have prompted very early application of the first fungicide.”
Risk forecasts for LLS in the autumn (again available on the Rothamsted website) are based on region, amount of pod disease the previous summer and deviation from the 30 year mean summer temperature - and all indications are that the risk is likely to be high this autumn.
Although traditionally Light Leaf Spot was a disease of Scotland and the North of England, Crop Monitor information shows that more recently the disease is frequently being found in the south of the country.
Symptoms shown are large, mealy blotches on the leaves, with a pinkish white centre and white spore droplets around the edge of the lesion. It may be necessary to incubate them for a couple days in a plastic bag for these droplets to develop, says Dr Ellerton.
Choice of fungicide
Dr Ellerton says that where disease control is the main issue, fungicides should be based around active ingredients such as prothioconazole, tebuconazole, prochloraz/tebuconazole, picoxystrobin/penthiopyrad or difenoconazole. However, if growth manipulation as well as disease control is needed in more forward/thicker crops, then metconazole or tebuconazole based products will be more appropriate.
“In more backward crops, or crops on particularly light land, consideration should be given to the relatively new fungicide based on penthiopyrad and picoxystrobin. Trials have shown excellent control of both Phoma and LLS combined with ability to considerably increase root mass enabling better uptake of nutrients and potentially better growth in a dry spring, through increased water scavenging. Uniquely, this is achieved without a reduction in crop size above ground.”
Hutchinsons are leading a new farmer-led research project exploring autumn planting cover crops in the alleyways of hop yards. Funded and supported by Innovative Farmers and Charles Faram Ltd, and working with the British Hop Association and NIAB EMR (East Malling), they are looking for fifteen interested hop growers to help develop ways to enrich soils between the hop rows. Rob Saunders, fruit and hop specialist with Hutchinsons, says he is delighted about the funding and support that Innovative Farmers has agreed to give.
Rob explains that as the harvest of hops involves the removal of the whole plant, no organic matter is returned to the soil in the normal cropping cycle. Growers must frequently travel through the hop yards, irrespective of the conditions, and consequently the health of the soil deteriorates. A perennial crop, hops are grown from hop setts and can live for up to twenty years.
The field lab will look at several aspects of soil health including worm populations, organic matter, soil mineral content and water infiltration rates. It will compare yards with and without cover crops down the rows. The cover crop is likely to be made up of combinations of forage rye, oats, vetch and buckwheat, though in many yards verticillium wilt is a significant consideration and the chosen cover crop must not increase the risk of wilt by harbouring or vectoring the disease, so part of the project is to identify the best cover crop to use.
Kate Pressland, Research Manager for Innovative Farmers, said: “There is evidence in the US of cover crops in hops production, but for the UK the benefits and practicalities of including them in alley management are unknown. British hops growers are very interested in improving soil health and it is great that the field lab will support collaborative working to investigate how cover cropping could work for them.”
Growing organic matter in situ should be less expensive than importing and spreading, with the added benefit of avoiding further traffic in the winter, and avoiding the bare soil ‘vacuum’ that nature invariably fills with pernicious (and wilt susceptible) weeds such as nettle, fat-hen and groundsel. “It is only by measuring the baseline criteria and the subsequent effects on soil health that you can see any impacts; the project hopes to prove that using cover crops in hops is worth doing and does improve soil health. If it does, then they hope to widen this practice in hop yards, which has the potential, in the long term, to increase yields.” says Rob.
Rob reports that baseline assessments and cover crop sowing are planned for Autumn 2017 and the initial evaluation made available in spring 2018. Any growers wanting to be involved should contact Rob at [email protected].
You can follow the field lab’s progress, and learn more about Innovative Farmers, at www.innovativefarmers.org
Research by leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons has shed new light on the benefits that a phosphite biostimulant application can have on wheat establishment and final yield.
Replicated trials conducted on two North Yorkshire farms last season by Hutchinsons agronomist Sam Hugill found that a single late-October application of a foliar phosphite product significantly improved tillering and strengthened the resilience of those crops to overwinter damage.
Monthly tiller counts revealed the late September-sown plots of Group 4 Revelation, both on heavy clay sites saw a 17% increase in tillering last December and by early February this benefit had doubled to a 34%, which carried through to a 6% yield improvement at harvest.
The foliar phosphite product, containing nitrogen, phosphoric acid, potash (6-23-4) and additional zinc, was applied at the recommended 1 litre/ha around a month after drilling at growth stage 13. Its performance was compared against an untreated plot and two other treatments of an epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph-based fungicide (0.75 litres/ha) and a chlormequat growth regulator (0.5 litres/ha).
“Applications of the fungicide and plant growth regulator had no impact on tiller numbers or winter survival, but we saw clear physiological benefits from the foliar phosphite in building root mass,” says Mr Hugill. “This makes the plant better at scavenging nutrients and putting on tillers.”
Both fields are prone to poor establishment caused by winter waterlogging, so increasing root mass and the number/ resilience of tillers can help overcome stress events or root disease and make a real difference to yield potential coming into the spring, he says.
“Tiller survival influences final ear numbers which has a major influence on yield. We need to jump at the chance to be able to boost our growers’ yield, which ultimately results in an uplift of the gross margin.”
Mr Hugill says the weather was relatively kind last winter which may have reduced the yield benefit recorded this harvest. A bigger difference may well be possible after a harsher winter, especially on heavy soils prone to waterlogging, he suggests. He is repeating the trials again this season in a different variety, KWS Barrel, and will further examine the impact of different dose rates as well as other foliar products.
“A lot of growers are interested in the product, so we’ve got a really good opportunity to further confirm its performance across a range of situations and soil types.”
Phosphites v Phosphate
Phosphorus is an essential element in all living cells, but there are important differences between the nutritional effect of conventional phosphate fertilisers derived from phosphoric acid and the physiological impact of phosphite products, made from phosphorous acid.
Phosphite is much more soluble than phosphate and although plants cannot use it as a direct nutrient source, they can take it up through the leaf vacuole where it is then used to boost root/ root hair development and stimulate nutrient uptake from the soil, Hutchinsons technical manager Dick Neale explains.
This differs from phosphate which is too large and insoluble to break down quickly meaning that it is more effectively taken up from the soil by roots. Foliar phosphate is more at risk of sitting on the leaf surface where it is weathered and a proportion may be lost to the environment. Phosphate and phosphite cannot be used as substitutes, he says.
Improving nitrogen availability further into the growing season is fundamental to increasing the yield potential of maize, according to trials by leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons.
Research at its northern maize trials demonstration site in Cumbria has revealed significant improvements in plant growth and cob size are possible by applying nutrition products that extend the availability of nitrogen into the summer growing season when the crop is most “hungry”.
Maize requires the majority of its nitrogen after the latest safe growth stage for travelling through the crop, with typically half of total demand between the eight leaf stage to tasseling, and another 40% required from tasseling to maturity.
But on light soils in high rainfall areas like the northwest of England, the threat from nutrient leaching often means manures and other fertilisers applied in early spring struggle to fulfil this crop requirement later in the season, Hutchinsons agronomist and trials organiser Jim Clark explains.
That is where slow-release fertilisers can have a big benefit, as highlighted by this year’s trials in Pioneer P7326 at Smalmstown Farm, near Longtown, he says.
Clear differences in cob size are visible in the four-rows by 50m plots treated at the eight leaf stage with the slow-release liquid foliar nitrogen product Efficient 28, which gives a “phased release” of nitrogen over six to eight weeks (see pictures).
A similar benefit has been recorded in plots treated with the pre-emergence N-Lock nitrogen stabiliser. N-Lock inhibits the bacterial conversion of ammonium N to the more readily available nitrite, which is prone to being washed down the soil profile. This therefore retains nitrogen in the rooting zone longer where it can be taken up by plants in nitrate form.
“Maize has a huge demand for nitrogen from the eight leaf stage up to grain fill, so getting enough fertility to where it’s needed and at the right time is crucial to improving yields,” adds fellow Hutchinsons agronomist Tom Whitfield.
“Dry matter yield per hectare is key and that means sowing the right variety for your farm, feeding the crop well, and using film when establishing it in this region.”
Indeed, the trials reinforce the value of sowing maize under film in the northwest, with covered crops hitting the target 30-35% DM by early October, whereas open crops look unlikely to achieve the same maturity.
Select Variety Carefully
Maize is far more heavily influenced by regional conditions than wheat, so selecting the most suitable variety for local conditions is essential, Mr Clark says.
Some 20 varieties are being evaluated at the Longtown trials site, most of which are being grown under film – something that is an essential “insurance policy” given the higher rainfall and cooler climate, he notes.
Early maturity is one of the biggest factors to look for when selecting a variety in the northwest, however this must be balanced with yield, he adds.
“Historically very early varieties haven’t produced a big fresh weight yield, so growers have got to find the right balance. This is especially true when growing under film, as you need around 2-3t/acre extra fresh weight over an ‘open’ crop to recoup the cost of using film, which typically adds £85-105/acre.”
Modern varieties, such as Pioneer’s P7326 have consistently produced good fresh weight yield and met the target maturity, even in very wet seasons when other varieties have struggled to achieve the required dry matter, Mr Clark notes.
“There are several varieties from other breeders also showing a lot of promise, but we like to see consistent performance over two or three years in trials before making any decision about growing a new variety on a wider scale.”
The potential benefit from applying molasses to soil prior to drilling is another area being investigated at the trial site, Hutchinsons agronomist Matthew Hyslop says.
The technique has been tried in the US, and although there was a slight visual difference in the larger size of cobs where molasses was applied to the Longtown trial, he says it is too early to say whether there is any consistent benefit to UK crops.
All crops in this season’s trials will be harvested with a specialist trials forager and fully analysed for dry matter yield and energy content and he hopes to repeat the molasses trial again next year.
“There is some debate as to exactly how molasses may help crop growth, but it could be that the sugars are stimulating soil microbiology, which helps to break down organic matter and aid nitrogen mineralisation.”
Note: The Smalmstown Farm trial site is hosted by kind permission of Mr & Mrs R Fisher.
Hutchinsons trials are shedding new light on how growers can maximise the returns and rotational benefits of energy maize.
Interest in the crop has increased dramatically with the expansion of the biogas sector over recent years, with some 52,280ha of maize grown for AD last year, equivalent to almost one third of the total maize area.
The Hutchinsons trials at Great Livermere near Bury St Edmunds were set up to address the lack of impartial agronomic advice for energy maize and have already revealed some significant findings that will push crop performance forward, says the firm’s Kiryon Skippen.
A notable example is the comparison of narrow 500mm row spacings with the standard 750mm width traditionally used on many farms. Trials have dispelled fears that narrow rows compromise root growth, and have in fact proved the opposite to be true.
Crops sown on narrow rows last year produced marginally bigger root balls that penetrated to greater depth than the conventional spacing. Plants were better able to access and retain moisture and nutrients, resulting in improved cob development and higher yield, he says.
Sowing rows closer together also maximises land use efficiency, as research shows root balls of plants sown at wider spacings fail to fill gaps between rows, resulting in some 15% of the field being under-utilised.
Weed control is improved at narrower row widths too, as the extra crop competition results in fewer, smaller weeds.
Protecting Soil Integrity
Another area being investigated is the benefit of under-sowing maize with a cover crop to protect the light sandy loam soil from erosion and leaching over winter after maize is harvested.
A grass and legume mix was broadcast into plots when maize plants were around knee-high, allowing enough time for the cover to establish properly while not competing with the crop.
“The cover grows underneath the maize and is ready to grow away as soon as the maize is cut, protecting the soil over the winter before a following spring crop is sown,” says Mr Skippen.
Indeed, improving soil health and nutrient availability throughout the season is a key aspect of managing “hungry” maize crops and other trials show significant benefits from using the N-Lock nitrogen stabiliser to prolong nitrogen availability within the rooting zone.
Used in conjunction with Efficient-28 slow release fertiliser and an azoxystrobin + propiconazole-based fungicide spray at growth stage 32 timing, the approach better matches the ongoing nutrient demands of growing maize plants than the sudden spikes associated with conventional fertilisers.
The approach is being repeated this season, with additional trials looking at how varying zinc and potash applications affects final yield.
A separate variety screen is also in place where 16 new and established energy maize varieties are being compared to see which offer the most consistent performance and help growers decide which could work best in their situation.
All plots are taken through to harvest, when crops are fully analysed for a range of factors from dry matter content to methane yield.
The ultimate aim, Mr Skippen says, is to help energy maize growers improve variety selection and crop agronomy to maximise biogas yields on every hectare grown.
Maize Trial Findings from 2016
- Look for performance consistency over multiple years
- Several varieties offer higher yield and energy output
- Spread risk with a range of maturities
Narrow 500mm row spacing:
- Improves access to water and nutrition
- Improves water infiltration
- Gives more, bigger, fuller cobs
- Increases dry matter yield
- Reduces weeds
- Results in bigger root mass, and
- Bigger, fuller cobs – emphasised in a late season dry spell
- Plants stay green for longer, especially during drought conditions.