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Category Archive: Agrii East Summer 2013

  1. Keeping one step ahead of the pests

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    Kevin Workman – Horticultural Agronomist

    The fluctuating UK climate tests everyone in one way or another. Top Fruit growers are no exception; in recent seasons we have witnessed resurgence in some of the more unusual insects appearing in their crops; including some long forgotten foes, which we had considered more of a nuisance, than a major issue.

    The unseasonal weather patterns experienced in 2012 are seen as the probable cause of change in the pattern of insecticide activity; this may well have resulted in pests such as the apple fruit Rhynchites (Rhynchites aequatus) causing issues in several orchards last season.

    One theory is that the fluctuating temperatures upset the normal development of this weevil, which led to a prolonged emergence and coupled with the general tendency of the fruit growing industry to move away from broad-spectrum insecticides, meant that the normal control achieved as a side effect to caterpillar and aphid targeted sprays, failed, resulting in more fruit than ‘normal’ affected.

    This particular pest was once considered to reside mainly in Kent but it can now be detected throughout East Anglia and the West Midlands.

    Anthonomus pomorum

    Another weevil species that is common in the cider orchards in the West of England is appearing more and more in the dessert orchards of the South and East. The Apple blossom weevil (Anthonomus pomorum) is viewed by some almost as a friend when present at low levels, especially in seasons with good strong bloom and ideal pollination conditions, when it offers a possible welcome reduction in fruit numbers, but it can seriously reduce the overall crop if populations are left to multiply.

    Apple blossom weevil, like Rhynchities, is difficult to detect and a grower may not realise that he has an issue until the damage is evident.  At this stage we know some control may still be possible, but is unlikely to be effective in reducing numbers significantly in the following year, and certainly won’t save any crop or reduce any damage in the present season.

    We know that controlling both of these pests requires a similar procedure and pesticide, but the application of a suitable insecticide is required outside the normal time frame for early season pest application, this makes detection and identification key to an effective strategy.

    Blossom weevil are best controlled at or soon after bud burst, using an insecticide with activity against weevil species; application at this time is ‘unusual’ due to other significant pests being mainly absent until later in the season.    Rhynchities can be well controlled at mouse ear, again earlier than standard early season insecticide applications.

    Lesser Apple Foliage Weevil (Mecinus pyraster) can now be found in all the major fruit growing areas of the United Kingdom. A very small weevil species in comparison to some, often found on Pear but seemingly particularly fond of Bramley, this weevil can be found on any variety.  While we recognize from our crop walking experience this pest isn’t normally found in great numbers and its damage, the grazing of the upper-leaf surface, can usually be treated as an irritation rather than a major issue.

    Mecinus pyraster

    Like most weevil species, Mecinus pyraster has a ‘drop and play dead’ response to any perceived threat.  This makes control difficult, as when sensing an approaching sprayer; ‘most likely’ via vibration, the weevil drops to the orchard floor, taking it out of ‘the line of fire’ and the effective reach of any insecticide.

    The accurate identification of pests is critical to achieving timely and effective control. In recent years several trapping systems have been refined for some of the major fruit pests, largely due to the continued hard work and technical breakthroughs by the entomology team at East Malling in respect of pheromone synthesis and plant volatile discovery; valuable research work often financed by the HDC.

    In my visits to growers, it is clear they have been quick to install these trapping systems, sometimes with help from producer organisation funding and incentive schemes, but it is also very noticeable that in some cases these traps are left to their own devices and the resultant catches remain largely unmonitored and un-acted upon.

    With the possible (likely) loss of more of our insecticide arsenal, application will, as always, need to be made with the upmost precision to ensure good control before damage occurs.

    Many of these pests are masters of disguise, or at least they have very good camouflage and are difficult to spot without meticulous crop inspection, trapping, or the use of a beating tray!

    With the volatility of our UK climate and the increasing pressure on the ‘pesticide arsenal’ growers need to be ‘on their toes’ to keep pace with natures surprises. Assiduously following a strategy of monitoring and recording the prevalence of weevil activity, will be a key requirement for keeping one step ahead of the pests.

  2. RTK GPS aids variable rate seed use

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    Thurlow Estate Farms drills autumn cereals at variable seed rates using RTK GPS guidance to allow for differing soil types within fields; aiming to establish even plant counts and ultimately improve yields.

    “In the past we suffered from variable establishment across the different soils,” explains Thurlow’s Farms Director Andrew Crossley. “We tried varying seed rates within fields but it was subjective and probably only picked up the extremes, rather than the more subtle variations that were actually contributing to our yield variation across some 2,750 hectares of cereals.”

    In 2012 the whole estate, near Haverhill in Suffolk, was scanned by Soil Quest. The resulting soil zone maps provided five horizons in each field with a prescription created in Gatekeeper and uploaded to the tractor-mounted Trimble RTK GPS hardware. Utilising RTK Farming’s network of base stations each drill tractor is equipped with a Trimble FMX integrated display, controlling Vaderstad 800S and Horsch Sprinter drills.

    Over time the degree of variation will be adjusted as a result of yearly plant, and ultimately ear, count checks. Andrew expects a pattern to develop depending on soil type, drilling date, and previous cropping. “It will be important to relate the variable seed rate yield maps to the previous flat seed rate established crops and then to the different zones used now within each field,” he says.

    The technology will be extended to the bean and oilseed crops over the next few years. “We may also use it for automating increased rates under woodlands or areas repeatedly affected by pest damage. With the availability of specific software available from Vaderstad and Trimble we’ll also be able to operate auto-shut-off half-widths on running headlands, further reducing overlaps,” says Andrew.

    RTK Farming

    Real time kinematic (RTK) allows farmers using precision farming technology through global positioning satellite systems (GPS) and fixed base stations to improve machinery efficiency to sub-inch accuracy, repeatable year-on-year and without constant satellite drift during daily operations. The equipment also allows tailored seed, fertiliser and chemical inputs to the growing crop as well as reduced fuel consumption by improving the accuracy of field operations whether steering the tractor or the implement.

    RTK Farming uses this technology in an innovative precision farming network covering some one million ha across East Anglia. The farmer-controlled company has a network of 32 base stations and 23 repeaters using Trimble technology, which ensures farmer subscribers have a reliable signal at all times. By overlapping the signals the network is never stretched to its maximum limit and if one base station is temporarily lost another can compensate. By sharing these base stations and repeaters the technology becomes more affordable to farmers than it would individually.

  3. Common Agricultural Policy Update

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    Beth Metson – Farm Environment Consultant

    The Common Agricultural Policy affects 45% of European land, it makes up 40% of EU budget and it goes beyond agriculture to industries such as forestry.

    The CAP reform is not likely to be complete until 2015, delayed from 2014.  Climate change, food security and sustainable use of natural resources have all encouraged the need for a reform of this magnitude.

    The CAP will become more outcome focused, it will aim to help achieve policy and legislative targets more than it ever has previously.  The objectives will be driven by directives that focus on water, soil, biodiversity, climate change and historical landscape.  Agriculture is considered to have a big role to play in achieving wider policy targets.

    Pillar 1 – EU want more bang for their buck

    Pillar 1 and 2 are funding pots.  Pillar 1 sees the wider audience, Cross Compliance sits in here, it is solely EU funded and therefore notoriously less flexible.  Pillar 2 is more flexible, it is made up of member state funds too, current agri-environment scheme payments and RDPE funding originate here. 

    It is widely accepted Cross Compliance has not been as successful as hoped.  Therefore compulsory greening is being considered.  These will potentially have direct payment implications.  There is no definitive figure yet in terms of these implications but it is likely to be in the region of 30% of the direct payment paid to growers.  The question is will growers will be able to opt out of these compulsory options and therefore forego this 30% of their payment?  For what it is worth at current payments this is valued at ~£70/ha.

    Pillar 2 – Less money but ambitious environmental aims

    Pillar 2 is likely to see a larger reduction in budget.  This highlights the need to further develop successful partnerships already existent in the industry.  This will help achieve ambitious environmental outcomes around policy targets and landscape scale coordination.  One example growers will be most familiar with is the water catchment scale approach where we have seen water companies increasingly involved with government organisations to control agricultural diffuse water pollution.  There is recognition these relationships need to be further exploited and formed to efficiently and effectively achieve outcomes.

    There is an encouragement for large scale digitalisation of CAP related applications, of which the implications are being considered.

    Advice and training for land managers is seen as pivotal to achieving environmental outcomes desired from the CAP.  It is recognised growers need to know why they are undertaking options in agri-environment schemes in order to manage them correctly and achieve their aims.  Current agri-environment schemes are too complex, prescribed and desired outcomes are not spelt out for all to understand, this is likely to change.

    Agri-Environment Schemes and the gap – Pillar 2

    New Agri-Environment (AE) schemes are being designed now, taking into consideration policy objectives and lessons learnt from current and old schemes.  Capital works options are likely to feature and be available on a wider scale, subject to review of these options.  New AE schemes aim to be launched in 2015 ready to begin January 2016, from which point there will be a single annual start date.

    There is a concern with regard to the gap between December 2013, when the last of the AE agreements can begin and January 2016, when new agreements can be implemented.  This gap is not good for the environment or farmers.  It will affect those AE agreements that are coming to an end during 2014/15.  In terms of ELS, there are 2219 (185,000 ha) agreements expiring in 2014 and 12,000 (1.38m ha) in 2015.

  4. ‘Volatility’ remains at the heart of the grain market in this new era

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    The risk and financial impact on your arable business continues to be dominated by world market volatility. The savage swings in weather patterns around the globe, are proving to pose a consistent threat to production in the major producing regions and affecting what historically have been stable supplies.

    The key to risk management is to accept the inherent nature of price volatility. The essence of uncertainty in the agricultural market is the natural variation in supply inherent in crop markets. We cannot accurately predict crop production figures enough to maintain stable markets making it essential that growers take action to ensure a minimum price that is acceptable against their cost of production.

    Markets live on a daily diet of news of events of which some are predictable and some not, but can still have an effect on the market, making your trading decision hard to assess. There are many ways to look at price risk and how you might manage it including your appetite for risk, the nature of risk, the impact on your business and what tools are available to manage it. There is no one answer as each business is different, but it is important to recognise that whatever Risk Management strategy you employ it should give you the potential to add value as well as protecting against downside. When we look at the current state of our cropping we must remember that the UK only accounts for 2.5% of world wheat production and therefore global influence and the volatility derived from it ultimately dictates our price.

    Moves in price of up to £100/mt clearly demonstrate the effects of such creating a market that can very quickly become ‘One Hot Potato’. Crop Marketing and Risk Management advice form part of Agrii’s portfolio in providing marketing tools that you can use to manage such risk and in some cases linked to exclusive buyback contracts. When employing a strategy to manage risk we would advocate that consideration in adding value where possible also be a priority and not just protecting price.

    By combining these two aspects you can potentially realise additional income per hectare without incurring extra production costs. Contracts that offer Guaranteed Minimum Price, Underpinned Premiums & Min – Max premiums along with niche market contracts for crops such as Vistive HO, LLRape offering premium over and above conventional rape price with bonuses, Milling Wheat for specific markets, Malting Barley, Linseed and Pulse contracts. In summary, your decision making in a volatile environment requires business planning and gaining as much of an understanding of the underlying market forces as possible. Combine this with the tools and contracts available to you and this will minimise your risk and exposure considerably.

    At Agrii we have strategic partnerships and direct links with end consumers and new developing markets. Why not let us help alongside your Agrii agronomist to give you good solid advice to the benefit of your farm business.

  5. Throws Farm Development Update

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    Redevelopment of our Throws Farm Technology Centre is underway as part of a major investment programme by Agrii and parent company Origin Enterprises plc into research and progressive innovation to keep our agronomists and farming clients ahead. Work has now commenced at the Essex site, and the whole team at Throws has been involved with the upgrade plans to ensure the centre is fit for the future. Robin Leathart, who is managing the project explained: “The development will see the erection of a new Technical Building to house purpose built laboratories and sample preparation facilities and there will be enhanced storage space for grain, fertiliser and machinery storage”“A glasshouse, used for early-stage plant breeding work, has been improved and there will be new office accommodation for the trials team”, he adds. At the heart of the development will be a state of the art conference and meeting facility that will provide a first class venue to support Agrii’s work to demonstrate agronomic advances to farmers and advisers. Colin Lloyd, Agrii’s Head of Agronomy commented: “We are entering an exciting time in terms of farming technologies and Agrii are committed to connecting the benefits of new agri-science with practical farming. The end result of the upgrade at Throws will be a farm and trials complex that will complement our plan to expand and progress all forms of research in the future”. Detailed design is complete and construction will commence in May, with the intent of being complete by July 2014.

  6. Winter Barley the better choice for oilseed rape entry?

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    Barry Barker – Arable Seed Product Manager

    Has winter barley got a more important role to play in your rotation next season? Varieties have been taking a step forward in yield and straw values remain a very useful extra income source. Plus, the earlier harvest allows the spread of workload and more time to get oilseed rape crops drilled at the optimum time. Hybrid rape varieties are allowing growers a wider drilling window than a few years ago. But, as this last season has shown, sometimes the optimum drilling window is shorter than expected! So what are the varietal choices for growers wanting to switchback to winter barley from winter wheat? The winter malting market has been declining in recent years and whilst older varieties such as Pearl and Flagon are still grown, there are some interesting newer options to consider.

    Conventional Options

    Cassata has the benefit of BaYMV resistance and full IBD approval and is grown both as a malting variety and a feed type. The variety attracting the most interest in this sector is SY Venture but the decision on whether the variety has IBD approval will not be known until the end of May or early June. Yields (from HGCA data) are at least 3% better than Cassata and6% in the East.KWS Cassia has 40% of the conventional winter barley market so will clearly remain the biggest selling variety for another year. But there are some alternatives. KWS Glacier is top of the conventional winter barley yields on a UK basis about 3%above KWS Cassia. In the East it has done particularly well achieving similar levels to Volume the hybrid barley. Disease resistance is generally good and it does have BaYMV resistance. As does California which is a new addition to the list and although yields are similar to KWS Cassia it does have better Rhynchosporium and Net Blotch resistance, is the stiffest variety on the list, a fraction earlier and is a similar height. KWS Glacier is about 6cm shorter. So that straw and disease resistance combination may attract growers wanting a more solid agronomic profile.

    Considering Hybrids?

    In recent years there has been a significant increase in the market share of hybrid barley. Hybrids certainly seem to have the greatest yield potential and recent varieties such as Volume and the newer Galation offer good agronomic packages too. The yield advantages appear to be most noticeable where land is more marginal, but in many cases hybrids have been more consistent in their performance too.

    Plan Early

    It is expected that winter barley sales will increase this year but with crop development being later than normal it is ever more important for growers to get their orders in before the end of July. Production plants will switch over to wheat at the earliest opportunity and most likely will not return to barley production until the 2nd half of October.