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  1. Growing potato varieties that are both resistant and tolerant to Potato Cyst Nematode (PCN) holds the key to tackling one of the biggest threats to UK crops, according to leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons.

    The firm is running a series of trials at its new Fenland potato demonstration site near Mildenhall in Suffolk to examine how 15 leading varieties differ in their resistance and tolerance to the pest under a high pressure situation.

    The aim is to improve the limited information on varietal tolerance to PCN available from breeders and dispel some of the misconceptions around the role of “resistance”, says John Keer from Richard Austin Agriculture, who is managing the trial with his colleague Michael Rodger.

    “Resistance and tolerance are not linked. There is a crucial difference growers have to remember,” says Dr Keer.

    Resistance is the ability of a variety to affect the multiplication of PCN. Full resistance prevents formation of cysts on the root system, while partial resistance reduces the formation of cysts. Either type has the effect of allowing a gradual reduction in PCN levels in the soil, he explains.

    “But resistance tells you nothing about the crop’s ability [tolerance] to produce a reasonable yield when grown in the presence of PCN. Generally, tolerant varieties produce larger root systems and are more vigorous in their growth habit.”

    Pot Trial 1

    Varieties on Trial

    Initial PCN counts from multiple samples taken across the trial site ranged from 36-53 eggs/g of soil, all of which was identified as Globodera pallida– now the most widespread PCN species in the country.

    “Like many farms, the dominance of Globodera pallida is a legacy from years of growing Maris Piper, which is resistant to the other main species, Globodera rostochiensis.”
    Replicated plots of the 15 varieties were planted on 10 May. The performance of each one will be compared with and without a nematicide (Nemathorin at 30kg/ha) and taken through to harvest when yield, grade and final PCN count can be assessed.

    “The black Fen soil on this site is very forgiving and all varieties look good at the moment,” says Dr Keer. “However, it will be interesting to see if they remain as close when it comes to final yield and quality. The really interesting thing will be the final PCN count from soil samples taken after harvest to see which varieties have helped reduce PCN pressure and which have not.”

    Improving the understanding of varietal tolerance and resistance to PCN is essential to improve cultural control in future and reduce reliance on chemical options, which remain under scrutiny from regulators and environmentalists, he adds.

    There may be opportunities to use PCN mapping and precision management systems such as Omnia to identify problem areas and target the growing of dual resistant and tolerant varieties within individual fields, especially as greater use of box stores makes segregation easier, he says. “PCN mapping will play a big role in integrated management.”

    Pot Trial 2

    Comparing Nematicides

    While varietal resistance and tolerance is improving, nematicides remain a key part of integrated control strategies and a separate trial at the Fenland site is comparing the efficacy of leading products on plots of Maris Peer.

    Initial PCN counts ranged from 12-64 eggs/g of soil, all of which was G. pallida.
    Five different treatments were applied to replicated plots sown on 8 May, with another left untreated.

    Again, crops will be taken through to harvest when final yield, grade and PCN count will be assessed.

    “The soil is very tolerant in its own right so there is only a very slight visual difference between treated and untreated plots at the moment, but it will be interesting to see if there are any variations in tuber number, size and marketable yield,” says Mr Rodger.

    “Nematicides used on soil as good as this function more to control any PCN increase than to protect yield because the effects of PCN feeding on the roots are alleviated by the background soil fertility. There may well be much bigger differences on less forgiving soils.”

    Resistance/ Tolerance Trial Varieties:

    • Maris Peer     
    • Cara
    • Innovator     
    • Maris Piper
    • Markies     
    • Performa
    • Eurostar     
    • Arsenal
    • Rock         
    • Agria
    • Divaa         
    • Daisy
    • Royal        
    • Camel
    • Alicante
  2. New trials by leading agronomy firm Hutchinsons could pave the way for significant improvements to future potato agronomy.

    The Fenland Potato Demonstration at Friesland Farm near Mildenhall, Suffolk is examining several key areas, including nitrogen rates, crop safety of post-emergence herbicides, the impact of seed age on yield and integrated PCN management.

    Despite only being mid-way through the first season, growers attending a recent open day at the site witnessed some interesting early findings which could help inform future decision-making.

    Efficient Fertiliser Use

    The nitrogen trial in particular reveals notable differences, especially when comparing it to the surrounding commercial crop of Maris Piper, Hutchinsons fertiliser manager Tim Kerr says.

    Tim Kerr 1

    The trial itself clearly shows variations in tuber size, advancement and haulm growth at the different nitrogen rates of 0, 100, 200 and 300kg/ha, but he says the most significant difference this spring is more down to how the nitrogen has been applied.

    He believes the surrounding commercial crop has performed better than the trial area because the base NPK fertiliser was placed in a band close to seed either side of the ridge, whereas in the trial it was broadcast onto the ploughed surface and incorporated during ridge formation.

    “The availability of less mobile nutrients, especially phosphate, can be compromised in dry weather meaning they are less readily available for developing crops to take up. Placing fertiliser close to where it’s needed allows more efficient use of it, especially in dry soils.”

    Mr Kerr also emphasises the importance of phosphate and potash in early root development. “Crops with ample N, P and K available will produce stronger roots that are more capable of extracting water and nutrients when needed and help overcome any other limiting factors through the season.”

    Shedding Light on Crop Safety

    Perhaps the most visible differences are in the herbicide trial, where the crop effects of four post-emergence herbicides are under investigation across a range of 22 new and established varieties.

    “There’s very little crop safety information available from manufacturers, who do not screen many new varieties, so we want to shed more light on how different varieties are affected by post-em treatments,” Hutchinsons root crop technical manager Darryl Shailes says.

    Darryl Shailes

    All varieties were planted on 30 May with herbicides applied in late June when crops had reached 15cm high. Treatments included two rates of metribuzin (0.5kg/ha and 0.2kg/ha), Basagran SG (1.65kg/ha) + Phase II (2.0 litres/ha) and Titus (50g/ha).

    “Initially there was quite a lot of impact from the treatments, but because the soil here is so forgiving and crops received decent rainfall at the end of June, many subsequently grew away from those initial effects.”

    There are still notable differences in the impact of treatments on individual varieties, with some crops – even those where post-em herbicides are not recommended - showing virtually no ill effects, while others have suffered more significant yellowing, scorch or other damage to haulm growth.

    Mr Shailes cautions against drawing any conclusions from one year’s trial and insists further work is needed before advice can be given about the crop safety of post-em treatments on specific varieties.

    Work in Progress

    There are less discernible differences in the seed age and PCN trials, but experts believe further tests after harvest could reveal interesting results.

    In the seed source and age trial, seven different Maris Piper seed lots of varying age are being compared at two planting spacings; one based on AHDB seed rate charts and the other at standard 15” spacing. Chits and stem number have been recorded and yield and size grade will be measured at harvest.

    “Last year saw low tuber numbers in the 6s and 7s rather than 10s and 12s. This may have been down to dull weather at tuber initiation, but we want to examine it further and see if there are any differences between the age or source location of seed,” says agronomist Stefan Williams.

    Meanwhile John Keer and his Richard Austin Agriculture colleague Michael Rodger are investigating the impact of different nematicides and varietal resistance and tolerance on potato cyst nematodes.

    Replicated plot trials have been set up in an area of field suffering high incidence of Globodera pallida. One part of the site is comparing five nematicide treatments on Maris Peer, while another set of trials is examining how 15 varieties with varying resistance and tolerance fare with and without a nematicide.

    Initial egg counts show a PCN population of 36-53 eggs/ g soil and this will be compared to a final count and measure of yield/ grade after harvest.

    “There is a crucial difference between resistance and tolerance that growers have to remember,” says Dr Keer. “Resistance prevents PCN completing its lifecycle, so will allow you to gradually reduce PCN levels in the soil, but it tells you nothing about the crop’s ability [tolerance] to withstand a PCN attack. There isn’t much information from breeders on varietal tolerance to PCN.

    “The ideal is to have a variety with dual resistance to both types of PCN - rostochiensis and pallida – and good tolerance. New varieties are getting very close to this.”

    He reports little visible difference in crop growth within the trial so far, but says the most interesting results will come from the final PCN count later in the year.

    A follow-up meeting to discuss all findings from Friesland Farm trials is due to be held this winter.

    Look out for more information at or contact our Wisbech office, 01945 461177.

    About Friesland Farm

    •    Owned and managed by A. L Lee Farming Company
    •    Farmed area totals 4,850ha (12,000 acres) across Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Norfolk
    •    All irrigable
    •    Diverse rotation with potatoes grown 1 year in every 6-8
    •    Focus on processing and chipping varieties
    •    Trials site is on sandy black Fen soil (high organic matter and fertility)
    •    Strong focus on maximising soil fertility and sustainability across the farm.

  3. Growers in the north should consider the premium opportunities on offer when making their wheat variety choices for the coming seasons, was the message from Cam Murray, northern regional technical manager for Hutchinsons, at a recent open day at Buston Barns, in Morpeth, Northumberland.

    With over 120 farmers attending the event on the 21st June, the topic of wheat variety choice for the coming season was very much at the forefront of visitor’s minds.

    Currently, biscuit and soft wheat milling premiums are comparable or above those for Group 1 & 2’s, so growers should be looking at what varieties will give them access to these premium opportunities, whilst still driving for high yields and a good strong agronomic package, explained Mr Murray to visitors at the open day.

    Cam Murray & grower at recent Alnwick open day

    He noted that biscuit wheats KWS Barrel and KWS Basset have shown particularly high yields in the north.

    “Barrel is classified as a uks soft wheat for export but it is not suitable for distilling. Barrel’s northern yield is the highest on the list at 109% so a worthy contender. It’s more suited to later drilling as there is a yield penalty with this variety if drilled too early, with yield potential dropping off to 98%. It is suited to both first and second wheat positions.”

    “Basset, the brother of Barrel, is potentially a very useful soft wheat with biscuit making credentials. A northern yield of 101% makes it a solid performer.  This variety suits the early drilling slot.”

    Both varieties are resistant to OWBM, with good resistance to yellow rust and mildew. However Barrel only has a rating of 4 for Septoria tritici so it’s less suitable for areas with high septoria pressure where more careful management is needed.

    Mr Murray believes that Zulu is still a good contender, and although it has softer milling characteristics than Claire, meets the requirements of a Group 3 wheat. Northern growers like this variety as it is also rated for distilling.

     “Zulu’s weakness is rust, having succumbed to current races, however as long as growers are aware of this issue it should be easily controlled.”

    Amongst the soft group 4’s LG Sundance and LG Motown are attracting a lot of attention, he said.

    “LG Sundance tends to give slightly low specific weights, but is rated a medium for distilling. Its septoria rating of 7.3 is the highest on the list, and coupled with an excellent yellow rust rating of 9, it is good option for growers who have large acreages to cover.”
    “However for all these good specs you do pay a small price in reduced yield on this variety.”

    “The other new variety out of the Limagrain stable is LG Motown, and at 104 in the north outperforms its “Sundance” stable mate.  Being a -1 for ripening will make LG Motown attractive to growers north of the border and a Hagberg of 217 gives it a strong resistance to sprouting.

    “At a 5.8 for septoria it’s behind that of Sundance, and will need appropriate management. This variety prefers the later drilling slot.”  

    Also worth considering in this medium distilling category is Hardwicke, which has looked very good in trials and yielded up around 104%. Although for this autumn there is a limited amount of seed available.

    Mr Murray acknowledged that Leeds and Viscount are still popular varieties for the north.  “Viscount is one of the barometer varieties, and is a proven reliable and consistent variety up here. At a 103% it’s hard to look past this variety as one of the better performers.”

    “Leeds has always done well on light soils down to its Istabraaq parentage, although it is tall and leggy and very susceptible to mildew, so needs careful management. But Leeds has a good Hagberg of 206, so is less prone to sprouting.”

    “In a low input or organic situation, it would be hard to beat Revelation. It’s proven to be agronomically quite tough with its good overall disease package but it’s important to take into account the +3 for maturity.”  

    “Another option here could be LG Sundance with the 7.3 and 9 for septoria and rust respectively.”

    With regards to the Group 2’s KWS Lilli (104%) out yields Siskin (101%) in the north, he said.  “There’s a marketing opportunity to grow this variety for salmon farming. Yields are comparable to the soft group 4 so grow and treat this as a soft group 4, drive the yield and then look for a premium as a dynamic quality group 2.”

    Candidate variety RGT Universe will be available in small amounts and will suit those looking to early drill in late August – beginning of September, added Mr Murray.

  4. Admitting there is a problem and being willing to change farm practices accordingly is essential if growers are to get ahead of troublesome black-grass.

    So says Lincolnshire farmer Nick Wade, who after being inspired by a visit to the Hutchinsons National black-grass centre of excellence in 2014, has introduced several big changes across the 935ha of combinable cropping at Abbey Farm near Sedgebrook.

    Nick Wade

    “When you work hard every day, it’s never easy to be told you’re doing something wrong, but sometimes it’s what’s required.

    “To tackle black-grass effectively, you’ve first got to admit there’s a problem and be prepared to change what you’re doing, which can be hard. Our visit to Brampton was a breath of fresh air and gave us just the motivation needed.”

    Identifying the Problem

    Land at Abbey Farm is predominantly Evesham and Denchworth series heavy clay, which until three years ago was mostly down to a simple winter wheat and oilseed rape rotation established early using deep cultivations.

    Mr Wade admits the approach was “ruinous” for black-grass, and confirmation of RRR resistance to ‘fop’ and ‘dim’ chemistry, three-star resistance to ALS inhibitors and some pendimethalin resistance, gave added impetus for action.

    His visit to Brampton was the catalyst for several changes, with particular focus on reducing cultivation depth and spring cropping.

    Shallower Cultivations

    There has been a big move to shallow cultivations where just the top 50-75mm (2-3”) of soil is moved to create a “kill zone” for black-grass and avoid burying seed for future years or bringing up old seed from deeper in the profile.

    Two main machines are used for this; a 5.5m Simba X-Press or 6m Horsch Terrano fitted with A-shares and press.

    Mr Wade has also converted his Simba Freeflow drill to minimise soil movement by replacing the pigtail tines with Weaving Sabre low disturbance tines, reducing the number of coulters and removing the front loosening tines.

    The machine now has the same effect as his Weaving Big Disc drill, with a noticeable drop in black-grass emergence post-drilling.

    Subsoiling has been reduced, although mole ploughing is used more widely as part of an on-going drainage improvement programme. This is accompanied by more attention to reducing compaction with low ground pressure machinery and restricting vehicles to tramlines wherever possible. Around a quarter of the farm receives organic manures each year to further improve soil structure.

    Delayed Drilling

    The heavy soil has not traditionally lent itself to late drilling or spring cropping, but this has not prevented Mr Wade venturing down this route.

    Prior to 2014, winter wheat was typically sown from September to mid-October, leaving no time for stale seedbeds and increasing reliance on in-crop chemistry.

    Autumn drilling is now a month or so later as Mr Wade is keen to establish two black-grass flushes before sowing a crop. He is also much more willing to adapt cropping according to weather, black-grass pressure and soil conditions.

    The increased area of spring cropping from 14ha three years ago to 223ha this harvest (principally spring wheat and beans) aids later drilling, he says. Spring cropping is the ultimate form of delayed drilling and the later maturity of spring crops helps dry soil longer into the summer which facilitates later drilling of following crops, he says.

    “Spring wheat might be six or seven weeks later to harvest than oilseed rape, so it’s taking moisture out of the ground later into the season and is making a real difference.
    “The gross margin can be similar to oilseed rape or first wheat, so there’s no panic if we don’t get land drilled in the autumn.”

    Competitive Crops

    After seeing work at Brampton, Mr Wade has adopted higher seed rates to boost competitiveness of winter and spring-sown crops and compensate for any lower establishment from drilling later.

    Winter wheat is sown at 360-450 seeds/m2, winter barley around 500/m2 and spring wheat up to 550/m2.

    He favours spring wheat over hybrid winter barley largely because the cost of hybrid seed makes it prohibitively expensive to sow at such high rates. Spring barley is another option, but gross margins are low for feed barley and spring wheat straw is also easier to chop behind the combine, he notes.

    “We’re getting 70-75% establishment where spring wheat has gone in well, with yields of 3t/acre-plus, so I see a massive future for it, especially if we reduce the oilseed rape area in future.”

    Cultural black-grass control is supported with a robust pre-emergence strategy, based around flufenacet, diflufenican and prosulfocarb. Avadex is also applied by a contractor to all first wheats and barley, removing the need for post-em sulfonylurea chemistry.

    Mr Wade stresses the long-term effectiveness of black-grass control relies on willingness to change and close cooperation between all parties involved, including his Hutchinsons agronomist Andrew Wright and farm staff.

    “We took our main tractor driver to Brampton and now he’s fully behind what we’re trying to achieve.”