Arable News

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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Farmers discuss black-grass, cereal fungicides and precision farming

Arablefarmers in East Anglia met up for one of a series of events being organised byBASFs agronomy team across the country. Jess Townsend, BASFs Agronomy Managerfor Cambridgeshire, brought together a set of presenters who covered the latestthinking in black-grass control, cereal fungicide trials and precision farming.

JohnCussans of NIABTAG kicked off with a presentation on Understanding theinfluence of agronomy on black-grass. He challenged the audience by statingthat black-grass has been building up especially in the last few seasons, yetthere have been relatively few changes in agronomy to head off theproblem.  The main historic reasons whyblack-grass is such a problem is the switch from spring to winter cropping,earlier drilling and less ploughing. Now 25% of crops are drilled before the 20thSeptember, whereas in 1970 the figure was 0%. Crops pick their own weeds!

Johnstated that that HGCA-funded work shows herbicide performance is influenced bydelayed drilling and advised farmers not to establish wheat crops with a highdensity of black-grass.  Use staleseedbeds, delay drilling or whatever to reduce black-grass density. Very highpopulations of black-grass are much harder to control than lower density ones.

He alsopointed out that the pattern of rainfall in September and October had aprofound influence on herbicide performance. The solution is multifaceted. Plough strategically, using it sparinglyand well. Apply residuals at true pre-emergence timing following the drill.Stack residuals but use at least 4 modes of action into the programme.

Take upresistance testing so you know exactly what you are dealing with on your farm.Grow a competitive crop species at a higher seed density. You must also focuson effective herbicides in non-cereal crops as part of the rotation.

JohnCussans warned that, although the cultural control methods add to the weedmanagement solution, they can be very variable. For example ploughing on average reduces black-grass by 67%, but therange from 25 trials was a 20% increase in the weed population up to areduction of 96%. It depends on getting a proper inversion of the soil andusing ploughing at the most appropriate place in the rotation. Similarlydelaying drilling gave a mean reduction of black-grass of 37%, but the rangefrom 16 trials was a weed population increase of 64% to a reduction of 83% -massive variation!

Culturalcontrol doesnt mean less herbicide should be used, he concluded Were in anera where cultural control is necessary to close the gap between the level ofherbicide control we can reliably achieve and the level of control required tomake rotations sustainable.

SteveDennis, BASF Regional Sales Manager for the South, took farmers through thelatest cereal fungicide trials.  Lastseason yields were good but prices not so. Rainfall was average but conditionsmilder with significant sunshine in June and July – good for grain fill.Overall conditions were good for yields, but equally good for disease! In 2014a robust disease approach was needed. Most farmers were able to apply their 4fungicides at the right time and within the right spray intervals.

Reportingon fungicide trials at Rawcliffe Bridge, a major trials site for BASF, Stevereported that all wheat varieties responded to fungicide inputs, with anaverage of 4.24 t/ha response, giving a Margin over Input Cost of 352/ha. Thelowest response to fungicides was 3 t/ha, giving a MOIC of 216.

Steve advisedthat, with Septoria being the top target and most varieties having low Septoriaresistance, a full programme starting with a T0 treatment will give goodresults.  When it comes to growth stage32 (the so called T1) when Leaf 3 is emerging, eyespot should be treated. Thisdisease is difficult to see, but early diagnosis is important, even in firstwheats. Tracker is still the best fungicide for eyespot and high responses of 1t/ha can be achieved through controlling this disease. I would advise stickingwith Tracker and only moving away from it in known low risk eyespot situationswhere Septoria infection is very high. At T2 AICC independent trials showedAdexar + chlorothalonil producing the best results, with treated crops yielding12.6 t/ha (and a MOIC from the T2 of 118). I would advise the use ofchlorothalonil at T0 through to T2 to help mitigate against resistancedevelopment. At just a few pounds per hectare it is well worth it. When used inmix with Adexar at T2, the MOIC of adding chlorothalonil was 45.

The nextset of speakers at the BASF meeting were an expert in precision technology andUnmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) Mark Jarman of Ursula Agriculture, andNuffield scholar and Shropshire farmer Andrew Williamson.

Markdescribed the many ways that crops can be monitored by UAVs and satellites. Wecan survey crops using multi-spectral sensors (cameras) to precisely identifyand quantify problems in the crop. For example, this means we can map the exactlocation, extent and density of black-grass patches in the field, for controlthis season as well as for longer-term management. We are in a technologyrevolution in agriculture, which will continue to develop. Problems will arisefrom data overload and farmers being flooded with data, so the skill lies inbeing able to interpret and act upon that data. URSULA Agricultures focus ison informing management decisions, rather than just providing measurements.

Farmerand Nuffield scholar Andrew Williamson agrees. He farms 900 acres in Shropshireand has been keen on precision farming for many years.  In 2007 it was yield mapping and soilsampling. In 2008 it was variable P and K rates: 2010 auto-selection and boomheight control on sprayers: 2013 variable seed rates and electricalconductivity measures. Any future technology will have to increase production,manage resources sustainably, assist in technology development and interpretdata to the greatest benefit.

Andrewillustrated a number of examples of farmers in other countries using precisiontechnology to their benefit. A farm in New Zealand was using variable rateirrigation where every part of the field had a moisture probe. Telemetry wasintroduced so that readings were taken every 15 minutes and this helped informirrigation decisions.

Data isking but it needs to become more mobile and based on good agronomy. It is theanalysis that is challenging, so that the cause of variation is determined, notjust measured. The UK is perfectly suited to more sophisticated precisionfarming.

If farmersare interested in future BASF meetings or in attending local demonstrations andtrials, they are invited to contact Jess directly on [email protected] or on07771 815699.


  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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