More science more yield was the take home message to the 350 farmers in attendance at this years Hutchinsons winter technical conference, in Peterborough.
In recognition of 2015 being the International Year of Soils and also the excellent results achieved in this years Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) project, the conference focussed on how soils and yields are intrinsically linked.
Prof Achim Dobermann, Director of Rothamsted Research, explored the status of yield increases in different crops across the world, and presented his conclusion that climate change is only responsible for 10% of the yield stagnation in wheat in the UK.
On the contrary, Prof Dobermann highlighted the correlation between yield plateaus and the reductions in the use of nitrogen and phosphorus, noting that the long term work on cereal yields at Rothamsted since 1843 has identified the importance of soil management, and this combined with genetics, are the keys to unlocking the yield barriers.
Prof Dobermann underlined the need to forget the quick fixes and move back to the basics of good agronomy.
Dick Neale, Hutchinsons technical manager, looked at some of the impacts of cultivation techniques on soil health. Many farmers prepare their seedbeds to accommodate the type of drill that they use, rather than the specific requirements of different crops. Its key to really look at your soils and understand what issues exist, he said.
Mr Neale raised his concerns that many soil inspections are carried out in the summer when soils are dry and hard, inducing potentially wrong conclusions, in particular regarding soil compaction.
He suggested that many of the answers to these problems can be solved by reduced tillage, as a way to increase soil strength, and that the power of plant roots to maintain soil conditions was under-estimated.
The role of solar energy in the creation of yield.
Farming is about energy conversion and its success depends on capturing and measuring this, was the message from Roger Sylvester Bradley of ADAS. He insisted that with regards to light capture, the choice of varieties plays a major role through the leaf size and leaf angle, and that growers and agronomists must then optimise the development phase of the plant, and secure the protection of the plant through the maturation phase. He identified the key role of the root structure in this process to ensure the maximum capture of water and nutrients in the soil.
Dr David Ellerton, technical director with Hutchinsons, presented clear evidence of the role in rooting structure of some of the SDHI fungicides, and also of the correlation between a bigger green leaf area with increased photosynthesis.
However, the battle for disease control is being complicated by the development of disease resistance, especially with septoria, yellow rust and fusarium he noted, highlighting that work last year by Hutchinsons and ADAS showed that triazole mixtures gave a better control of disease as different products can have different levels of control of the different strains of septoria.
The work also highlighted the efficacy of SDHIs, and the importance to UK farming of preserving their efficacy through applications in mixtures with other chemical families.
Predictable water in unpredictable weather
Drawing on many years of observations, and using sophisticated weather models, Prof Tim Osborne of the University of East Anglia, led the audience to realise that the future will bring heavy winter rainfall followed by hot and dry summers.
This will lead to changes in practice for the production of wheat, across the UK and Europe,he said.
Andy Brown from Anglian Water followed on, explaining the general water requirements in the future caused by the increased population in East Anglia. Whilst the time deadline looks far away, to get involved in the local consultations over the next 2 years, as these will determine key issues surrounding water storage and availability.
Hutchinsons Dr Bob Bulmer closed the presentations by describing some of the growing practices which growers will need to adopt if they want to continue to increase yields. Essentially farmers and agronomists will need to work together to manage the soil in ways which will permit enhanced water storage and increased root depth for their crops, he said.