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Ahead of the game

4 June 1999

Ahead of the game

TRYING to maintain flock margins when returns from sheep are so woeful is a challenge.

It is made even harder when the one cheap resource producers have – grass – is sheep sick permanent pasture. But what can producers do? This is the question Stephen Hart of Cross Farm, Wallingford, Oxon, who hosted NSA South Sheep 1999, asked visitors.

Being profitable has to remain a key objective, said Mr Hart. "It is a challenging time. We have 200 acres of pasture, banks and parkland which are more or less stuck with sheep, so we just have to hope the good times return."

Mr Hart told visitors that, in the face of this hard time, producers had to seek out objectives.

"Increasing prolificacy in our flock was the best thing we did, followed by closing the flock and then eradicating both foot-rot and scrapie."

Mr Harts flock consists of 1000 Hartline ewes, a breed he developed, which have averaged over 190% lambs reared in the last five years. Average gross margin has been above £61/ewe, apart from last year when margins were down to £37/ewe.

But other problems do exist. "We have problems with grass growth in summer and some of the land type in use. "When I value areas of the parkland, with its awkward shapes, hedges, shaded areas and troubles from acorn poisoning and ragwort, I think its worth minus £20/acre compared with my best lfields at £70/acre."

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2 June 1995


Knowing when pests and diseases will strike can aid control. New research is set to help

FORECASTING pests and diseases is an important technology with many potential benefits for a number of users, according to the CSLs Martin Hims.

For industrial and government policy makers, defining risk on the basis of recent data should help guide strategic decisions on research and development, marketing and buying. It could also aid plant breeding at national and regional level, he says.

"Tactically day-to-day local decision-making – at county, parish, farm and field level – needs an appreciation of historical risk plus up-to-date information on local crop disease status and meteorological data."

But from where should that data be obtained? "Local met stations are obvious sources, but how local is local?

"If use is to be made of such data, clearly it has to be relevant or appropriate to a farmers location. This is where on-farm met stations could be essential."

Such stations are relatively expensive – £5000-£6000 each, he acknowledges. "But how much does it cost to apply fungicides, insecticides (and possibly herbicides and nitrogen in the future) several times to a single field of winter wheat?"

Saving treatments on several fields each season could easily pay for a meteorological station within a few years, he suggests.

Tools to help growers use the data are not yet in place – but they are under development. "Perhaps it would be sensible for farmers to budget for an automatic met station in the not too distant future."

Good communication with met stations will be vital if their information is to be used efficiently.

Richard Leach and Moray Taylor are investigating the best way to download, process and display the data. To add even more value to each point source, Richard Baker is working on geographical information systems (GIS) and other methods based on digital terrain models.

The idea is to provide opportunities for far more users to benefit from each data source. The latter could be local single-user or group based. GIS technology can cope with a variety of data sources as long as they are defined and recognised by the system, he says.

&#8226 Further details of forecasting work at CSL will be available on the CSL stand at Cereals 95.

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