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  1. Automated machines growing the first arable crop remotely without operators in the driving seats or agronomists on the ground. ​

    Welcome to my first Hands Free Hectare blog. My name is Kieran Walsh and I am an agronomist with Hutchinsons crop production specialists. One year on since I was first asked by Kit Franklin to run the agronomy for the 1 ha trial; to see if a crop can be grown without stepping into the field. Such an exciting project, it was an opportunity that I couldn’t turn down.

    IMG_4148optimAbove Kieran Walsh (left) and Jonathan Grill (right)

    Last week we had our first sponsor's meeting with the HFH team and we discussed time scales, the machinery, seed drilling rates, number of passes and nutrition was amongst many other topics. For an agronomist it’s very unnatural not being able to step into the field, but this is what I have been tasked with. Using Omnia precision software I have captured all the field data on one central hub including previous cropping, soil health information, soil type and soil analysis, weed pressure, etc.

    KWS Spring Barley
    Above KWS Spring Barley

    Before leaving Harper Adams I couldn’t resist taking a close-up look with Jonathan Grill, one of the HFH engineers, at the boundary edge of the hectare plot. I am now looking forward to receiving my first images and video footage from the HFH automated machine.
    Hands Free Hectare OmniaAbove Omnia Precision Agronomy Maps

    We had the exciting news that the KWS Irina seed arrived today. It has been a busy week on customer’s farms with spring drilling kicking off but still time to organise seed rate plan and nutrition plans for the HFH plot. Hopefully my next blog I can tell you that we are drilled and rolled up.

    For more information please take a look at the Website:

  2. As the first sightings of pollen beetle are confirmed in oilseed rape crops, leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons is urging caution when deciding whether or not to treat crops.

    Beetles migrate into winter oilseed rape from mid-March through April and can damage buds if flowers are not open.

    However, many crops will easily compensate for lost flowers and with pyrethroid resistance now widespread across the UK, insecticide treatment should only be used as a last resort, says Cambridgeshire agronomist Andrew Cromie.

    Andrew Cromie

    “Just because you see pollen beetles in a crop, doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. Pollen beetles rarely cause major problems and in many cases it’s worth trying to avoid treating wherever possible.”

    Strong plants in thinner crops are usually better at compensating for damaged buds as they tend to branch out more and produce more shoots and flowers than plants growing at denser plant populations, he explains.

    This theory forms the basis of the AHDB treatment thresholds, which should be used as the platform for treatment decisions.

    “With the majority of oilseed rape looking pretty well this spring and advanced crops already approaching flowering, I don’t see a need to spray for pollen beetle in most cases,” Mr Cromie says.

    Timely Treatment Essential

    However, there may be a case for spraying more backward crops if treatment thresholds are reached as they are exposed to pollen beetle for longer before flowering begins, Mr Cromie continues.

    Pollen Beetles early bud invasionThe green to yellow bud stage is when crops are most susceptible, so crops should be monitored closely during this period.

    Once flowering starts the risk of damage is passed and pollen beetles will have a beneficial effect by pollinating crops, adds Hutchinsons technical development director David Ellerton.

    Any treatment must therefore be applied before flowering begins to avoid damage to pollen beetles and any other beneficial pollinating insects, he says.

    “Over-use of pyrethroids in the past has led to the issues with resistance we’re seeing now, so it’s crucial that any treatment is only applied when absolutely necessary and not as a routine, even if you’re going through the crop for something else.

    “The more you treat, the more you select for resistance, so we don’t want to drive resistance development any further or compromise the beneficial insects present in the crop during flowering.”

    Where control thresholds are reached and spraying is deemed necessary, Dr Ellerton says pyrethroids can still deliver some control, but there are a number of non-pyrethroid options to consider too, including products based on indoxacarb, pymetrozine or thiacloprid.

    AHDB pollen beetle treatment thresholds for winter and spring oilseed rape

    Plant population per m2 Treatment threshold (pollen beetles per plant)
    <30  25
    30-50 18
    50-70 11
    >70 7


    Pollen Beetle Tips

    •    Beetles migrate into winter osr from mid-March and April
    •    Can cause damage to buds if flowers are not open
    •    Eggs laid in closed flower buds – larvae feed on buds and flowers in May
    •    Crops with more flowers are better able to compensate for losses
    •    Greatest risk to backward crops with fewer flowers and exposed to pollen beetles for longer before flowering
    •    Asses risk using baited traps and AHDB migration forecasts
    •    Sample at least 10 plants across a 30m transect from middle of headland into crop
    •    Highest risk when warm and dry (over 15C)
    •    Treat only when control thresholds are exceeded
    •    Consider non-pyrethroid sprays to prevent further resistance development.

  3. With spring fast approaching, what are the best options for spring sowing - will spring 2017 be comparable with that of 2016?

    The open autumn has meant that many growers have been able to delay planting their wheat and benefit from controlling early flushes of blackgrass.  However , we envisage continued growth in spring plantings compared to 2016, with some varieties of spring barley proving popular and demand now starting to outstrip supply, says David Bouch, Hutchinsons seed manager.

    “There will be challenges for OSR growers where winter OSR crops have been lost. The total area lost is somewhat difficult to ascertain. Some estimates say in excess of 70,000 ha, but it is safe to say that the hectares entered have seen a significant decline, due to both lack of moisture at the time of establishment and also to flea beetle damage where crops did survive.”

    David Bouch of Hutchinsons

    Spring barleys are the preferred option for those growers with black grass concerns, and there are many varieties that can be considered as viable options for this sector, he says.
    “Propino will undoubtedly be the most widely grown and in turn could find seed supplies tight. Of the newer varieties, there will be increased interest in both RGT Planet and also Laureate where higher yield potential, coupled with initial support from the malting industry, offers encouragement. Agronomically both varieties also offer the possibility for cleaner crops.”

     “KWS Irina offers opportunity in different markets and again demonstrates good untreated yield, coupled with very stiff straw. There will still be a place for Concerto and Odyssey which both have malting and distilling potential. Finally, in the west where feed barley and a need for straw are more pressing, then Kelim has been a consistent performer.”

    “Spring wheats are very individual choices and if milling is the requirement there is little need to look further than Mulika - whilst out yielded by all the other spring varieties, it is the only variety to offer group one milling qualities. It also possesses OWBM resistance along with Belvoir. “

    “KWS Kilburn offers the greatest yield potential for growers looking to keep things simple in terms of storage, if hard wheats are already in the farm rotation.”

    Mr Bouch notes that there is the potential to see a growth in spring oilseed rape on the back of high market values for the crop at harvest 2017. “Varieties  Builder, Dodger and Doktrin can be considered as options. Hybrid has to be the choice, with the necessary vigour needed for successful establishment.”

    Spring drilling will increase in 2017

    He believes linseed could also see some interest, as contract prices currently look more attractive than they have in recent seasons.

    “Peas and beans are likely to be in reasonably tight supply with yields from harvest 2016 being disappointing and therefore, for those growers who are looking to plant after failed OSR crops, there may be a need for early decision making to acquire varieties of choice. “

    “Beans will undoubtedly be Fuego, Fanfare and Vertigo as the standard bearers, but there will be some interest in the new variety Lynx that has the best downy mildew resistance of any variety currently available. “

    “The choice in peas - Prophet and Campus - offer both yield and quality as large blues, with Campus in particular having excellent standing ability to enhance its claims for consideration.”

    Mr Bouch warns that supplies of seed for several popular varieties are likely to run short, and advises  growers to act promptly  in order to  secure their most preferred options.