16 April 1999

Cornwalls flower reign in jeopardy

BULBS and flowers grown in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles are the best in the world, claim local producers. But a shift in production from East Anglia to the region risks saturating the market, they warn.

One such grower is James Hosking. His father started growing daffodils at Fentongollan Farm, near Truro, in the 1960s. Now the crop makes up 40% of turnover on the 516ha (1275 acre) farm.

"Cornish flowers tend to be longer stemmed and have a better colour due to the humidity and consistent cool temperatures here," he says.

"Cornish bulbs are harder and more vigorous – they produce 20% more flowers than other areas. Its to do with the bulbs being produced in tougher conditions."

That quality has seen south-west production rise to 17% of world supply, with bulbs and flowers being exported to Europe and North America. But a sudden surge in production could see markets collapse.

"There is a real danger of over-production. The market was pretty well saturated this year and any more flowers could tip the balance," he warns.

That would hit the region hard. Current combined flower and bulb sales are worth £13m.

"Much of the income goes straight back into the local economy. We employ 150 pickers on just 130 acres at peak times," says Mr Hosking.

Picking starts in January and lasts for about three months at Fentongollan. Seasonal labour is needed again in summer months to pick and grade bulbs.

Struggling dairy or arable men tempted to try the crop would not find it easy, warns Mr Hosking. "Huge amounts of capital are needed – for equipment and growing the crop. And the labour requirement demands different management expertise."

Returns from the unsupported crop fluctuate dramatically, he adds.

CORNISH BULB FACTS

1,400ha, 17% of world production.

High vigour bulbs & taller flowers.

£13m/yr into local economy.

High capital and management skill needed.

FRACs strob dosage advice is under fire

By Andrew Blake

FUNGICIDE makers promoting what they consider to be responsible use of strobilurins face a rough road. The stumbling block is their argument over maintaining doses to reduce the risk of resistance.

There is broad agreement that it is advisable to restrict the number of strobilurin treatments to any one crop and use effective partner products to offset resistance risk. But the advice from the companies Fungicide Resistance Action Committee (Arable, Mar 19) that low doses should be avoided is harder to accept, say critics.

"I think FRAC has got it wrong," says Peter Taylor, chairman of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants. "Where is the evidence that higher doses give less resistance than lower doses? I believe the number of doses used is far more important."

FRAC guidelines are sensible in advocating the use of mixtures wherever cereal disease is already present, says IACR-Long Ashton pathologist Derek Hollomon.

"It makes sense to apply strobilurins no more than twice to a crop. Anything that reduces use reduces selection pressure on diseases. But in terms of dose rate I am less convinced. Using a strong mixture partner is much more important as far as an anti-resistance strategy is concerned."

With so-called disruptive resistance, as found with strobilurins, high fungicide doses soon select out resistant strains, says Chris Longhurst, global research and development director for Dow Agrosciences. "So at first glance using high rates could be a bad move."

"Maintaining the dose at recommended rates will help to stop resistance from developing," argues James Brown, geneticist at John Innes Centre. "Killing as many susceptible spores as possible means that you are also killing those that are potentially resistant."

Dick Neale for agchem distributor Hutchinson says it important to distinguish between full strobilurin label dose and that recommended for target diseases in the guidelines. "The recommended rate is sufficient to control all spores and prevent resistance build up. The use of multiple low doses is irresponsible."

Notts farmer Robert Sutton says there is an overall assumption that resistance is caused by repeated low-dose applications. "In all probability nothing could be further from the truth."

Nick Lawrence for BASF acknowledges there is no direct field evidence for the FRAC guidelines. "Its very difficult to prove a negative." The basis for what is clearly a precautionary principle is that repeated low-dose applications were widely used in Germany where mildew resistance to strobilurins was first found, he explains.

&#8226 Turn to page 64 for more FRAC debate.

Spray now for sclerotinia is ADAS message

SCLEROTINIA risks are rising fast and vulnerable crops need spraying as soon as possible, says ADAS.

"It all changed over Easter," says plant pathologist Peter Gladders. Buried sclerotia germination reached 22% by the end of last week and recent showers are likely to stimulate further germination. Spores are released about a week later, infecting plants where falling petals stick to stems.

"The worrying thing is that this flush of germination is synchronised with flowering. We could be reaching 1991 disease levels."

Where 20% of plants were infected in previous years, or where apothecia can easily be found, growers are advised to spray at full flowering.

"The fruiting bodies are orange-brown and about 5-6mm across. If any are found growers can be fairly sure treatment is justified – even if they are in a neighbouring cereal crop," he advises.

Ronilan or Konker (vinclozolin or vinclozolin + carbendazim) are most effective on sclerotinia and should be used at a minimum of half-rate in high risk crops, says Dr Gladders. In lodging-prone crops Rovral (iprodione) or Compass (iprodione + thiophanate-methyl) might be more appropriate to add alternaria protection.

Straight carbendazim could be a cheap option where sclerotinia risk is only moderate, he adds.

Agchem should be easier to buy now

CONTRARY to earlier suggestions (Arable Apr 2) Amistar (azoxystrobin) should be more readily available this season, says Zeneca.

"We are in close contact with our distributors and are continually monitoring demand as the season unfolds," says national sales manager, Mike Rawstron. "I know some farmers were disappointed last year because they were unable to buy as much as they wanted.

"Our factory in Scotland is working at full capacity and we have significantly more Amistar this year. Based on current forecasts at this early stage of the season, our availability is closely aligned to predicted demand."