Arable News

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
  • Posted:

Difficult conditions prove challenging for students in the 2013 Cereals Challenge

The Cereals Challenge has reconfirmed career interests in crop production and agronomy for members of the Newcastle University team.
The difficult weather conditions over the winter and spring have proved challenging for the six teams of students managing winter barley plots at the Cereals site in Boothby Graffoe for the 2013 Cereals Challenge, however all teams are confident that their recommendations will encourage the crops to grow, stay healthy, and hopefully win the Challenge for them!

The Cereals Challenge now in its fourth year, is a joint initiative between Hutchinsons and Velcourt, and aims to encourage a new generation of farmers and agronomists to engage with the technical nuances of crop production by giving them a plot of wheat to manage and sell.

The teams final assessment will be based on their recommendations, their justifications, full details of their treatments and how appropriate their application timings were for fertiliser and agrochemicals. They will also be scored on their grain marketing approach and their crop’s final gross margin. The winners will be announced at the Cereals Event, at 11am on Wednesday 12th June, on the Velcourt stand.

Greg Colebrook, who captains the Newcastle University team, says his team are really enjoying the task: Turning theory into practice and making the correct agronomic decisions for the plot is a challenge but a good one as it has given us a real insight into the role of an agronomist and how it can be very difficult matching growth stage to calendar dates!

With the cold conditions, our plot of barley has struggled to get going so we felt that crop warranted an early application of ammonium sulphate at 50kg/ha. The remaining 130kg/N was applied two split doses at the beginning and end of March.

The Harper Adams University team have also focussed on feeding the crop, applying 60kg/ha ammonium nitrate at growth stage 25 and then 140kg/ha split in two applications later on. We also applied copper and manganese to the plot, as the soils at the Cereals site are light and have a high pH which is usually indicative of low copper and manganese levels, explains David Bird, fourth year agriculture student and team leader.

The Harper team delayed their spray timings to coincide with the later growth stages and believe this was the right approach. Our main spend was targeted at T1 as this is the key timing for barley so we chose to go with an SDHI fungicide Siltra Xpro, but in hindsight we may not have needed to have spent so much as T1 now that it is clear that disease levels are not too high, but at the time we did not feel it was a risk that we could take.

For the Lincoln-based Riseholme team, the performance of the barley plot has been disappointing. We put this down to not only the cold but also the dry conditions of the spring. We only measured 4mm of rain in April and this means that the crop has struggled to take up the nitrogen applied.

A robust fungicide and PGR programmes has been used, with the team opting for an application of Siltra Xpro at T1. PGRs chlormequat and Modus were recommended to counteract the poor straw strength of the variety, but we now feel that we could have held back on the PGRs as the growing conditions have been so slow we dont think straw strength will be an issue.

Bill Meredith, head of agriculture at Riseholme College, believes that this is an excellent opportunity for students to involve themselves in the real time decision making processes that agronomists and growers make on a daily basis. The fact that the winning team must produce the highest profit, and take into consideration the marketing of the crop, makes the challenge all the more realistic.

Team leader for Easton College, Emily Page agrees. Marketing the crop has been one of the most valuable parts of this challenge. We have had to keep an eye on the markets all the time to decide when the best time to sell would be; prices are so volatile.


  • Written by: Farmers Guide
  • Posted:
Prev Story:Irregular emergence of beet cropsNext Story:Breakthough in wheat breeding science offers greater yields