Fresh approach to fruit trials by Agrii
Agrii have recently announced a serious commitment to the UK fruit industry by setting up a long term demonstration and evaluation plot for fruit crops at East Malling. Fruit grower Giles Cannon and HDC Top Fruit Panel member, says “with research funding being so limited for fruit, it’s great that one of the leading companies in the agronomy and supply industry are investing in R&D.” The plans for the site are ambitious as apples, pears, cherries and soft fruit crops will be included. Agrii’s Fruit Technical Support Manager, Colin Bird, is enthusiastic about the possibilities this site offers and adds that the company will also be looking into planting novel crops like Apiums, Plucots, Asian Pears and any others that show promise for the UK market.
Colin Bird explains that, “East Malling was the logical place for an all encompassing fruit trial and demonstration plot. East Malling Research has had a central role in fruit research for many decades and is now the last research and development centre left for fruit growing in the UK. It has excellent facilities and we are pleased to forge a long term partnership with its sister company, East Malling Ltd, especially with farm manager Graham Caspell and his team.”
The aim of the site will be to replicate a commercially based orchard for top fruit, but with a difference. Cultural techniques will be evaluated to improve the understanding of many of the systems currently advised in the UK and to demonstrate any differences or benefits. The orchard will also be a platform for plant protection evaluation. Different clonal selections of the major apple varieties grown in the UK will be planted, creating on a single site, a one stop view of the differences of each selection. Additionally, both post and wire and single stake planting systems will be employed.
Alongside well established varieties, new or alternative varieties will also be planted, allowing growers to assess the characteristics and merits of each. This will allow growers to see new varieties planted in various situations with the intention of greatly reducing the guesswork normally associated with selecting suitable varieties. There is also an intriguing offer to plant ‘club varieties’ as a shop window for marketing groups to allow these to be viewed by a wider audience. This may not be possible in all cases but Agrii consider that this would be a benefit to the wider industry.
Colin rounds-up by explaining; “As the site develops, the aims and objectives will grow organically to encompass any interesting developments, we don’t wish to limit ourselves to the tried and tested but rather be prepared to explore new directions and opportunities. No need to re-invent any wheels, rather assemble everything good in our industry on one site as a focal point for education to the benefit of both Agrii staff and our grower customers.”
More depth than grower trials
This new initiative for fruit (the arable arm of Agrii already have their own demonstration farm) will be used alongside Agrii’s existing extensive trials programme which are based mainly on grower’s farms. Establishing a site under the control and direction of the fruit team at Agrii will allow the team to demonstrate current chemistry, new releases, bio pesticides and novel treatments. As fruit agronomist Kevin Workman says, “we only recommend treatments that we have proven knowledge of, so this site will help hone that knowledge further and will be a valuable teaching aid for us as well as our customers.”
Various treatments and programmes can be looked at from an unbiased viewpoint, offering the potential for multiple product programmes, not just those from a particular manufacturer, as is so often the case. Using the demonstration site at EMR, with plantings similar to commercial practice, will allow accurate application, monitoring and recording, delivering really usable data and a greater depth to the results. Agrii have already covered the £4k cost of provided the weather station used to monitor the Concept Pear orchard at East Malling and agronomist Neil Obbard, Agrii’s weather station manager, will be able to use this valuable data for trials on predictive modelling for the benefit of customers as part of the network of stations currently in place. He says , “we aim to help customers, via improving predictive pest and disease models, to only have to apply treatments for protection.”
It is likely that bio pesticides will play an ever increasingly important role in crop protection so being able to ‘road-test’ some of the more novel bio-pesticides in a real situation will give Agrii an insight to their usefulness and efficacy. Many of these types of product have tangible benefits but these sometimes get lost within anecdotal evidence of efficacy. Colin Bird points out, “Often demonstrating a product in a real situation is the only sure fire way to judge its usefulness; our own site will allow us to use products that we may not be fully comfortable with or unsure of, before using on our growers’ farms”.
←Back Table of Contents