Case Study: Perth-based technical agronomist, David Barclay
Agronomy+ delivers far more than traditional crop production support
Growers are looking for much more comprehensive support from their agronomists these days to give them the edge in coping with far greater economic, legislative and time pressures.
They are better informed than ever before. In turn, they want the best-informed advice on a far wider range of topics than ever from like-minded people. And, increasingly, they appreciate being challenged to improve by doing things differently.
This is the experience of Perth-based technical agronomist, David Barclay who is responsible for more than 11,000 acres of combinable cropping across Angus and Perthshire.
Joining CSC in 2008 after studying at Newcastle University, within Masstock and now Agrii his role has expanded progressively to include potato agronomy support for the northern team and iFarm and technical event development.
His continued involvement with the family farm in Berwickshire and long-standing work with Scottish Young Farmers – currently as east region chairman – keeps him well-grounded in both the needs of the current farming generation and the expectations of the next.
“Our customers are wanting much more wide-ranging support from us than they used to even five years ago,” explained David. “As well as walking their crops and making their crop protection recommendations, they’re relying on us more and more for advice on rotations, variety choice, soil management, variable rate fertilisation and sowing, cross-compliance, Countryside Stewardship and record-keeping.
“More than anything else these days, we’re providing an all-round crop production support service based on the best available science and technology; something which sets us well apart from both other suppliers and advisers.”
Making the Difference
Foremost among the things David Barclay believes make all the difference to the broad crop production partnership he has with his customers is a breadth and depth of agronomic research that not even SAC or Scottish Agronomy, let alone other seed or chemical suppliers, can match.
“No one comes close in our area,” he stressed. “Agrii agronomy trials are well-focused on local needs and expertly run, giving me complete confidence in the recommendations I make. I don’t just think a piece of chemistry or approach will be right for a particular set of conditions, I know it. And I have the data to prove it. I also know what won’t work, which is every bit as valuable on farm.
“The advice I’m able to give as a result of Agrii R&D may not be independent in the traditional sense, but my growers know it will always be the best-informed in the business. Sadly, this certainly isn’t the case with what’s on offer from many so-called ‘independents’.
“It’s not just the local trial work that’s valuable, though,” added David. “Having access to such a good network of trials across the country means my growers and I can be ahead of the game in adapting to what’s coming down the road.
“Because black-grass is yet to become a major problem for us up here, for instance, there’s little, if any, local research we can turn to. But 15 years of the best farm-scale trials on the subject at Stow Longa is allowing us to confidently deal with the problems we already have and take the most-timely steps to stop them getting any worse.”
With timeliness more and more important in everything he and his growers do, David Barclay sees the increasingly sophisticated decision support tools based on local weather station data available to them as another major advantage.
In this season’s very mild early winter, indeed, they’ve found the T–Sum BYDV service invaluable in highlighting the need to spray their winter barley for aphids for the first time ever. Having relied on the winter to deal with BYDV problems in the past, they’d never have treated the crop if the service hadn’t identified the extent of their local risk.
“Just like blight forecasting, this sort of decision support is so valuable,” said David. “It allows us to respond to largely unseen risks early enough to nip performance-threatening conditions in the bud in the most cost-effective way. Especially so as our fantastic logistics service means I can guarantee my urgent recommendations will be on-farm the next day, if not later the same day, for the most timely application.”
David Barclay identifies the comprehensive Agrii national cereals and OSR variety trials programme as every bit as valuable as the crop protection R&D available to him.
Testing emerging new varieties almost to destruction under a wide range of conditions well before they become widely available means that he and his customers always know which new introductions are worth trying and how to make the best of them. Every bit as importantly, they tell him which ones are best avoided or must have particular agronomic support.
“Authoritative variety testing on a much wide scale than anyone else and under far more realistic commercial conditions than official trials allow me to be actively involved in decisions over which varieties to grow as well as how to grow them,” he pointed out.
“Whatever the variety, I can guarantee we’ve had it in trials somewhere. So I can provide the best possible guidance, ensuring our whole cropping approach is as integrated as it can be for the greatest value. It also means we rarely find ourselves having to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with extra inputs, which is about the last thing we want with margins as tight as they are today.”
Environmental and cross-compliance work is another area in which David Barclay is increasingly being asked for assistance. Here again first class intelligence from the wider Agrii team is allowing him to provide his growers with just the right support.
“As an industry, we’re going to have to deliver far more in the environmental department than we’ve ever done,” he observed. So knowing how best to integrate habitat creation into crop production will be crucial. After all, doing it right may mean we only have to take our least productive 2.5% of land out of production rather than the 5-7% that might otherwise be needed.”
Add in variable application and sowing rate advice, the most up-to-date fertiliser buying and crop marketing intelligence and practical soil and water management guidance, amongst other things, and it’s clear just how much more than a traditional agronomist David needs to be to his customers.
Joined-up Service Essentials
He firmly believes that this sort of joined-up crop production service has to be the way ahead for agronomists and is excited by the opportunities it provides. At the same time, he has no doubt it can only be done with sufficient across-the-board technical and organisational support.
“I simply could not provide the breadth and depth of service my customers need without the best support in the business,” David insisted.
“Because, I have all the variety and agronomy trial results I need at my fingertips – or, at worst, a quick phone call way – I can ensure my growers make the most of whatever each season brings.
“Because I have early decision support warnings of problems and know the products
I recommend will be delivered to where my growers need them reliably and promptly I can base my recommendations on the most cost-effective, timely treatments.
“Because I have access to one of the recognised national authorities on farming and wildlife, and up-to-the-minute information on fertiliser prices and crop values – not to mention a range of excellent crop margin, variety selection and other planning tools – I can point my growers towards opportunities that might otherwise pass them by.
“Because the Agrii IQ programme gave me the opportunity to gain BASIS Soil and Water certification I can provide my growers with valuable extra help in addressing soil compaction and improving soil health.
“And finally, because I have a really great team of colleagues around me, sharing information, approaches and experiences, I can always help my growers take advantage of developing best practice.
“This sort of support is essential in making me as valuable an all-round partner as I can be to my growers,” he concluded. “This is what being an agronomist today is all really about.”