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  1. Cereal growers have an ideal opportunity to use early fungicide applications to capitalise on comparatively lower disease pressure going into this spring.
    After a relatively dry winter in many areas so far, levels of septoria and rust are lower than in recent milder and wetter years, but that is no reason to miss the early T0 fungicide, insists Hutchinsons technical development director David Ellerton.

    Septoria is still present on lower leaves in many crops and given the challenges of controlling established disease with existing triazole and SDHI chemistry it is vital growers adopt a strong protectant approach from the outset, he says.

    The identification of new brown and yellow rust races that resulted in the downgrading of resistance ratings for several important varieties has further heightened the need to keep crops protected, he adds.

    “Disease pressure isn’t huge at present, but we’ve seen before how quickly the situation can change. Fungicides don’t offer the same curative ability as in the past, which is why it’s so important to remain in a protectant situation.”

    Dave Ellerton

    (Above) Dr Dave Ellerton

    Waiting until symptoms are visible in crops before controlling disease is simply too late, adds Hutchinsons northern regional technical manager Cam Murray.
    “Yellow rust in particular can destroy your crop within two weeks if you get control wrong. By the time you see rust sporulating in the crop, disease levels are probably ten-times worse within the leaf. But if you tackle rust early, it is relatively easy to control.”

    In contrast to much of England, he says conditions have been relatively mild north of the border, with mildew particularly prevalent on older leaves of wheat and barley.

    “Some susceptible crops will need mildew control once they reach stem extension, however really it needs controlling at T0, so is something to watch. If you think it needs control at T0, a morpholine component will be justified. In high-risk crops follow-up with a specific mildewicide at T1 to prevent disease spreading to new leaves.”

    Build Programmes around Multi-Sites

    In winter wheat, both Dr Ellerton and Mr Murray say multi-site active ingredients such as chlorothalonil or folpet plus a triazole should form the foundation of T0 treatments at mid to late tillering to protect newly developing leaves.

    Although chlorothalonil is generally more consistent against septoria, folpet also delivers good results and offers additional benefits from its compatibility with tank mix partners. It has been shown to slow resistance development in some trials too, Dr Ellerton notes.

    Cam Murray Hutchinsons

    (Above) Cam Murray

    “We’ve seen good results in our trials from alternating between chlorothalonil and folpet within the spray programme, so it is worth considering.”
    Where yellow rust is a risk, particularly in susceptible varieties, he recommends including a rust-active triazole such as cyproconazole, tebuconazole or epoxiconazole to rapidly control any disease present.

    Even where varieties have a high resistance rating, Mr Murray warns not to rely on this for control, as was highlighted last year by the emergence of new rust races and revision of rust ratings for several key varieties.

    “We’ve not seen much rust yet, but that’s not to say it won’t be there. Any variety is potentially at risk, so don’t assume you’re safe. Much depends on the type of varietal resistance and what races are present this season.”

    Keep Spray Windows Tight

    Depending on the weather and resulting disease pressure over coming weeks, Dr Ellerton says there may be a case for applying a pre-T0 fungicide based on straight tebuconazole or cyproconazole to the most susceptible varieties or high-risk crops.

    “If rust breaks out, it is usually fairly straightforward to control providing you knock it down quickly. Don’t be tempted to wait and let disease establish, or go in too early with the main T0 as this will stretch the window to T1 too far and allow disease in.

    “The T1 is usually applied in mid- to late April, so work back three to four weeks from there for your T0 and then consider if an earlier spray is also needed.”
    If a pre-T0 triazole is applied, Dr Ellerton says to consider avoiding using another triazole at true T0 in order to reduce the reliance on this chemistry for resistance management.

    Strobilurin-based products such as azoxystrobin and pyraclostrobin are good rust-active alternatives with both offering additional physiological benefits to root growth and greening that could benefit backward crops or second wheats at greater risk of take-all.

    Strobilurins also offer longer protection against rust than triazoles, typically 14-21 days compared with 7-10 days, notes Mr Murray.

    Looking ahead to the growth stage 32 (T1) fungicide, Dr Ellerton says this should again be based on multi-site chemistry plus a triazole.

    Adding an SDHI may be beneficial where curative septoria control is required or risk is particularly high, such as in early-sown susceptible varieties, however the final decision should always be tailored to variety and disease risk rather than done as a matter of course.

    Barley Needs early Protection Too

    Early disease control is particularly important in winter barley to protect the viability of tillers and maintain yield potential, as unlike wheat the crop cannot compensate for losing tillers, says Mr Murray.

    An early T0 fungicide applied just prior to GS 30, typically around mid- to late-March, is therefore crucial and has been shown to consistently deliver a 0.2-0.3t/ha yield response, he says.

    Products based on cyprodinil and chlorothalonil are generally the most effective option and allow triazole chemistry to be saved for later in the programme. Fenpropimorph is worth including if mildew risk is high, he adds.

    As with wheat, an effective barley T0 fungicide to hold back early disease provides more leeway for the main T1 stem extension spray at GS 31. Prothioconazole-based mixtures remain the most effective option in barley and should be combined with chlorothalonil or folpet to form the foundation of any T1 application, Mr Murray advises.

  2. For the first time in its eight-year history, this year’s Cereals Challenge has gone virtual - eight teams from Universities and Colleges from across England will compete to grow the best virtual crop of spring barley.

    The Cereals Challenge is organised by crop production specialists Hutchinsons and farm business management company Velcourt, and aims to encourage a new generation of agronomists and farmers into the industry by offering them a real-time crop to manage.

    At the Launch of this year’s Cereals Challenge on the 8th February in Solihull, Paul Hobson of Hutchinsons, explained the reasoning behind the change. “In previous years, teams have been given a real plot to manage at the Cereals Event site, however with such a geographical spread of teams, this disadvantaged those teams further away who may not have been able to get to the plots during the growing season.  By creating virtual plots this makes it simpler and fairer for all.”  

    “Adopting the virtual approach has meant that we were able to offer a choice between two on-farm scenarios’: either as a high yielding feed crop on heavy soil in a black-grass situation, or as a moderate yielding malting crop on sandy soil with moisture limitations.”

    Teams at Cereals Challenge Launch 2017

    “These scenarios reflect the situations that many growers are finding themselves in this spring. More and more spring barley is being grown across the country in response to the need for more diverse rotations as a result of increasing battles with black-grass, and the challenges facing the oilseed rape crop in light of the ban on neonicotinoids.”

    “Their barley will still need to be grown and managed as if it were a ‘real’ crop and each team will still have complete responsibility for their crop - from choosing which variety to grow and drilling details through to making the real-time agronomy decisions on inputs,” emphasises Mr Hobson.

    Judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, and Dick Neale, technical manager of Hutchinsons, the plots will need to reflect each team’s agronomic recommendations. Teams will be asked to provide fertiliser and herbicide management plans, a PGR and pest management plan as well as a disease management plan, and most importantly will be asked to evaluate their appropriateness and timeliness for each recommendation, input cost management, estimated crop yield and quality.

    "This competition gives final year agricultural students a flavour of making real time decisions ranging  from in-season agronomy to market dynamics - all with the final gross margin in mind which is something that is difficult to teach in a classroom, “says Mr Neale.

    Teams working on their Spring Barley plans at Cereals Challenge launch 2...

    It is the first time that a team from Nottingham Trent University has been in the Challenge. “We want to gain as many experiences across the arable sector as possible to broaden our knowledge and also to share the learnings from other colleges and universities,” explains team captain, Ben Theaker.

    “We have chosen to grow a high yielding feed crop of the variety Scholar on heavy soils with black-grass, as we feel confident that we can control the black-grass by later drilling of the crop and using a cover crop of black oats, vetch and phacelia which will outcompete the weeds and improve soil structure. We plan to spray this off two weeks before drilling on the 25th March.”

    The team from Newcastle University is also going for a high yielding feed crop of Scholar barley as they feel it is too risky to aim for a malting crop with only a £15/ha GM benefit. “If we don’t achieve the malting quality, we end up with a low yielding feed crop, so we are going for yield!” says Nick Lount, captain of the team.

    However, Writtle College has opted to grow a malting barley on light sands. Team Captain Oliver Martin explains. “By growing a malting crop in Suffolk, we are close to malsters. We have opted for Octavia which is approved for brewing and malt distilling. At least we know that we can manage the weed control, as don’t have black-grass to worry about on the region’s lighter soils”

    The winning team will be announced at the Cereals Event, at 5pm on the 14th June at the Hutchinsons stand, as part of the Guild of Agricultural Journalists Cereals Awards ceremony.
    Follow the 2017 Cereals Challenge on Twitter @CerealChallenge where you can meet the teams and keep up-to-date with what is happening on the plots.

    Sharing the Learning

    As part of this year’s Challenge, teams will be asked to write a news style piece suitable for publication on a farming website,  based on their fertiliser recommendations. In co-operation with the Guild of Agricultural Journalists, this part of the Challenge offers students a first-hand opportunity to engage with the press.” Being able to communicate technical issues either as an agronomist or farm manager or indeed in any role within agribusiness, is a vital tool in today’s climate. The entries will be judged by myself and a representative from the Guild, and contribute to 20% of the total marks for the Challenge, so it’s a really worthwhile exercise,” explains Niamh Tye, responsible for the communications of the Cereals Challenge.

  3. Neil Watson, Hutchinsons southern region technical manager, outlines the key areas to consider, when planning to grow a successful crop of spring barley whilst keeping on top of weeds.

    As the acreage of spring barley has increased dramatically on the back of black grass control, Mr Watsons advises growers  to remember what their key drivers are for growing the crop.

     “If your key driver is black grass control and you are farming heavy land, be realistic about what is achievable in meeting the market’s specifications for quality. Do not get tied into contracts that you will have little chance of delivering and have a negative impact on your black grass control.”

    However, having established your goals with the crop, the basic principles of agronomy remain the same and it’s very important to get these correct from the beginning to get the best possible crop established, he says.

    Neil Watson 1

    “Remember cultivations create weeds; minimising soil movement during the sowing process will minimise the weed seed germination. To minimise seedbed movement at sowing, the previous autumn’s cultivations should have been planned and carried out to facilitate a good, level spring tilth.”

    “Excessive soil movement also dries out the seedbed, not only compromising crop emergence, but also affecting weed seed germination patterns and adversely affecting the impact of residual herbicides on weed control. Slow and uneven crop emergence dilutes the competitive nature of the crop itself, in terms of weed suppression. “

    He adds that the inclusion of an appropriate cover crop, should leave the soil well-structured and drying throughout the profile, to allow the earliest possible access in the spring.
    Mr Watson reminds growers that if stale seedbeds are planned, then these must be given at least 30 days pre-sowing to be effective.  “There would be little point in using stale seedbeds for early sown crops -yet equally it is not these situations where black grass is likely to be an issue - the prime reason for stale seedbeds. “

    “If insufficient time is allowed between secondary cultivations and drilling, then the weed seeds become ‘primed’ and able to outcompete the sown crop once sufficient moisture becomes available. Our own trials’ data would suggest if enough time is not available, then delaying any cultivations to just prior to sowing would be the next best, alternative strategy. “

    Early sowing into cold, damp soils should be resisted, particularly where black grass is a major driver, he notes.

    “Crop growth must be rapid, to swiftly smother grassweeds in the early growth stages of development. Rapid crop development will not necessarily reduce black grass emergence, but will instead reduce seed return through increased competition impacting on the number of tillers per plant and seed per head.”  

    “Barley is most able to do this, whereas wheat and oats grow more upright, allowing light into the base of the crop for longer. “

    When planning seed rates, Mr Watson suggests that with two row barley, it is imperative to understand the importance of planting density from a crop physiology point of view.

    “There is a strong relationship between grains/m2 and yield. It should be recognised that two row barley crops have a limited ability to compensate for low plant stands, with increased grain numbers/ear, due to producing only a single grain per spikelet. Therefore, any increase in yield must almost exclusively come from high ear counts/ planting densities.”

    Hutchinsons have carried out extensive work at their Brampton site on the interaction of seed rate/planting density on black grass control. The higher seed rates produce a more competitive crop, thereby reducing tillers per plant and ear size of any surviving black grass plants and hence seed return.

    Herbicide choice is determined by the expected dominant weed species, quality of seedbed and moisture availability at the time, says Mr Watson.

    “Residual herbicides are particularly worthwhile for earlier sown crops, or where resistant weeds to ALS chemistry are of concern, or in black grass situations. Pendimethalin is a mainstay of spring weed control, but used either straight or as mixtures, certain flufenacet products are also available for spring application - in both situations labels must be checked for approval on the crop to be treated. “

    “For later crops sown in both dry and warm soils, the use of full rate pre-emergence herbicide needs to be questioned.”