Company News

July 16, 2018

Exciting agronomic innovations on show at AgriiFocus Event

BYDV-tolerant winter barley, foliar-only wheat nitrogen fertilisation, next generation fungicide chemistry, plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria and novel soil health assessment measures were among the crop production innovations explored by the 200-plus visitors to this summer’s AgriiFocus research and development open day.

Designed to give growers and their advisers an insight into promising future crop improvement opportunities as well as the performance of current and promising new cereal varieties, the open day at Agrii’s southern Technology Centre on the Marlborough Downs near Swindon certainly didn’t disappoint in either respect.

Across the 15 ha of extensive replicated winter wheat and winter and spring barley plots at North Farm, Aldbourne there were a whole host of exciting potential agronomic advances on display.

“Alongside evaluating current varieties and the best ways of making the most of them, we are actively exploring a range of technologies likely to be of particularly value in supporting future crop production,” explained the company’s southern R&D manager, Dr Syed Shah responsible for the site.

“In a future of increasing agrochemical losses through legislation and resistance, and growing environmental restrictions, our emphasis here is firmly on improved genetics, nutrition and both plant and soil health as well as cutting edge new chemistry.

“Our aim is to put these technologies through their paces with the most reliable science so that growers and their agronomists can use them with confidence as they become available in the years ahead.”

In a post-neonic future, the first UK winter barley to offer BYDV-tolerance, Amistar from KWS certainly caught the eye in the plots. It certainly isn’t the most exciting variety performance-wise, in the opinion of Berkshire-based seed specialist, Ian Davy. However, just like Turnip Yellows Virus resistant oilseed rape, he sees the trait becoming widespread in barley varieties in very short order.

“The confirmed BYDV tolerance the variety possesses – suffering symptoms of the disease but incurring markedly lower yield losses than non-tolerant varieties – is a hugely valuable trait with our aphid-control options becoming so limited,” he said.

“Although probably only suiting those with particularly high BYDV risks at the moment, it’s the thin edge of a very exciting wedge. Within the next five or six years I can see tolerance becoming available in a wide range of mainstream barleys – both two and four rows.

“We are exploring the real value of the trait and how to make the most of it in the field from this very early stage so we can employ it to increasingly good effect as tolerant varieties come onto the market from 2019.”

Of more immediate interest to AgriiFocus visitors were the in-depth trials underway with the exciting new generation of fungicides from Corteva and BASF – inatreq and revysol – scheduled to become commercially available in the next two years.

Following initial Agrii trials in 2017, the current programme has been expanded to involve 12-14 wheat varieties across four main UK sites, examining both how they perform as part of commercial regimes and where best to position them in annual treatment programmes.

“We’re looking at this chemistry across a range of varieties we know from our long-term research have low, medium and high responses to fungicides,” reported Cotswold-based i agronomist, John Vickery. “That way we can see exactly where the new actives will fit best from a varietal as well as treatment programme standpoint.

“Both actives appear to have particular value as replacements for the triazoles we’re losing to legislation and the Septoria shift, offering much-needed continued protection to the SDHIs. Inatreq has a completely new mode of action to any existing fungicide and, although part of the triazole family, revysol is active against the Septoria strains that have overcome the older chemistry.

“Our work so far also indicates revysol is more curative than many current triazoles and inatreq has a particular advantage in its persistency. Both, however, appear less rust active than the older chemistry so look like profiting from a strobilurin in the mix; especially so where more susceptible varieties are being grown and – in the case of brown rust – where solatenol is not the SDHI of choice.”

Alongside the fungicide work, replicated trials on the use of liquid and foliar-applied nitrogen to improve wheat nitrogen use efficiency were also on display at the open day.

“On calcareous soils we typically only get a nitrogen use efficiency of around 50% from soil-applied,” noted Wiltshire-based agronomist, Tom Goodman. “Yet, foliar nitrogen could be utilised with efficiencies of up to 95%.

“With greater restrictions on nitrogen use inevitable in the future – not to mention financial considerations – anything we can do to improve the efficiency with which we use N will be valuable.

“We’re currently exploring the potential of drip-feeding with foliar N alone throughout the growing season to significantly reduce the total amount of nitrogen applied, assessing both yield and grain quality from a range of application strategies. We’re also examining how we might best combine it with the liquid N that offers such advantages over solids in its accuracy of application and uptake under dry conditions.

“Our initial view is that the most efficient and practicable approach looks like being a programme involving conventional fertilisation in the spring to get the crop going followed by later season foliar N top-ups.”

Boosting wheat nitrogen use efficiency with a carefully selected range of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR) is another innovative area of plant science being explored in replicated AgriiFocus trials. These microbes have the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen while supporting improved crop root development and nutrient solubilisation and uptake.

“So far, we’ve seen very encouraging increases in both wheat ears/m2 and leaf nitrogen content from applying a specialist liquid bio-inoculant supplying many trillions of bacteria/ha at GS30 and GS39,” senior agronomist, Andrew Richards reported.

“It’s early days yet, though, as this is the first fully replicated wheat trial ever done with the product. We’ll only be able to assess the true value of the technique once we’ve analysed all the yields. We’ll also have to see how economic it actually can be within a practical spraying regime rather than the separate ‘clean tank’ application currently advised by its developers.”

The use of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) is something the Agrii researchers are also actively exploring in parallel to improve both crop performance and soil health. And as part of the EU Horizon 2020-funded Agrocycle project with a number of research partners across Europe and China they are investigating the relative value of cover crops as green manures and farmyard manure applications in improving soil health.

“Now into its second year of three, our work with Harper Adams University is showing valuable improvements in key indicators of soil health like microbial, springtail and earthworm populations, nematode communities and feeding types,” Andrew Richards observed.

“Alongside the project’s overall aim of securing a 10% increase in the recycling and value capture of European agricultural wastes, this should provide us with the best scientific understanding of the value of particular soil health indicators with which to develop our established soil health audit service.”