A team of students from the Barony campus of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) has beaten 15 other teams to win the 2016 Mains of Loirston Winter Wheat Challenge trophy. The trophy will be presented to the winners at Agriscot, Ingliston on Wednesday 16 November.
The annual competition is managed by SRUC on behalf of the Mains of Loirston Trust, established in 2007 by North East farmer, the late Alexander W Allan. He was committed to advancing education in the practice and science of agriculture in Scotland.
The Challenge is designed to encourage the next generation of farmers and agronomists by giving them their own plots of winter wheat to manage. Competitors decide what is needed to produce the most profitable crop, agreeing on variety, seed rate, fertiliser and pest and disease treatments during the season. Crops are grown at three SRUC trial sites in Aberdeenshire, Kinross and Midlothian.
Yield is measured and quality analyses are taken into account to produce a price per tonne for the wheat grown. Roger Baird, Director, W N Lindsay Grain Merchants who carried out the measurements, said: “We’re delighted to be involved with the Winter Wheat Challenge. It’s great to see the students understanding the importance of cost-effective crop production and meeting relevant quality standards.”
The winning Barony team – comprising Ian Carlisle from Dumfries, Mhari McCulloch, Newton Stewart, Ben Shoreman, Stranraer and James Wright, Thornhill – took part in the challenge while studying for the HNC in Agriculture. Ian and Ben have since moved to SRUC’s Edinburgh and Ayr campuses to study for an HND in Agriculture.
Their successful entry of the Group 4, soft variety Revelation produced a gross margin* of £826 per hectare with a yield of 8.4 tonnes/hectare. This was not the highest yield in the competition – a rival team achieved the highest yield of 8.9 tonnes/hectare – but this reinforces the point that maximising profit is not necessarily about maximising yield. The team adopted a strategy of seeking advice from a range of sources, to provide them with the necessary information on which to base their decisions.
The Challenge entrants – comprising 70 student teams from across four SRUC campuses – chose five different wheat varieties, including those with potential for feed, distilling and milling. Yields at the three trial sites were lower than in previous years, reflecting the national trend. However, there was a slight improvement in price per tonne of wheat compared with this time last year.
The increased disease pressure in 2016 presented challenges to the teams with most teams opting for robust fungicide programmes. Those teams taking part for the second year had to adapt their previous strategies to respond to the season and most of them achieved this quite successfully. Those teams with the higher gross margins tended to invest more money in an early season fungicide application which helped protect crops from disease.
Scott Murray, SRUC Lecturer and Challenge co-ordinator based at SRUC’s Edinburgh Campus, commented: “The quality of the decision making has improved this year and there is very little to separate the top teams. Indeed, the top three teams were only separated by just £45/hectare.”
New to the Challenge this year was the introduction of precision farming technology. A hand-held crop sensor was available to introduce the teams to new techniques to assist in the calculation of fertiliser application rates. Using red and infrared light, the sensor measures the amount of each type of light that is reflected back from plants. This data can then be converted into information to assist with fertiliser rate decision-making.
Expert industry advice was available during the summer from Gavin Dick of levy funded body AHDB Cereals, and Charlie Catto from Frontier Agriculture who visited the plots near Edinburgh and Aberdeenshire respectively. They were able to pass on advice and feedback to the teams.
Dr Alex Hilton, Lecturer at SRUC’s Aberdeen Campus added: “The Challenge is a great platform to involve people from the wider agricultural industry in our teaching and we would like to thank those people for their support.”