8 September 2001

Aiming low for a top prize

What does it cost you to grow a tonne of wheat? In our wheat challenge, four contenders attempt to do it for less.

Gilly Johnson reports

WITH hindsight, Brian Horsfield and his independent agronomist Peter Taylor could have saved a few pennies with their contest crop of Claire – early mildew protection may not have been needed, and the growth regulator and fungicides could perhaps have been trimmed as well. But thats hindsight for you. "Claire is potentially very susceptible to mildew, so it was a risk we couldnt take," says Mr Taylor.

The crop, a first wheat after peas, now looks on target for at least a 10t/ha yield, reckons Mr Horsfield. His only concern is grain quality; a few black flecks were appearing on the ears in July despite an Amistar T3 spray, and he was crossing his fingers for a dry spell up to harvest to burn out any further disease development.

There were savings made with crop establishment; after flat-lifting the tramlines, he used a single pass with home-made cultivation train – a five-furrow plough with two furrow presses attached. "We have experimented with lo-till, but this plough system works well." Soil is a lightish sandy clay over chalk.

There are some non-resistant blackgrass problems in half the field, but at least the sprayer was able to travel, albeit a tad late in early December, in the wet conditions. The chalk subsoil soaks up excess water quickly, explains Mr Horsfield.

Herbicide treatment was split to match the blackgrass areas and to make savings where there is no blackgrass; half was given a Hawk/IPU mix, the other a Panther/IPU spray. BYDV insecticide went on at the same time. Apart from the odd late germinating wild oat, weed control is good. A spring top-up with Ally and Starane, again not over all the field but targeted only on the problem areas, kept broadleaved weeds and cleavers at bay.

It hasnt been a bad year for disease, and Claire has good resistance. It was given a third-rate Opus/Bravo mix at GS32/33; rates could have been trimmed to a quarter rate, says Mr Taylor, but again thats the beauty of hindsight. "Septoria can come in late with Claire and you have to watch that."

A T2 at flag leaf included half-rate Opus plus 0.45 litres/ha of Amistar. A T3 ear spray of Amistar was cut back from the planned 0.4, to 0.24 litres/ha.

Fertiliser policy underwent a shift this spring in response to high prices; granulated urea replaced a liquid programme, and this gave good savings, says Mr Horsfield. Hes happy with application accuracy through a 24m spinner. Crop N nutrition status was checked with a hand-held chlorophyll meter: "It was spot on," says Mr Taylor.

The only lingering worry is sulphur, which would have gone on as part of a compound product, if urea had not replaced liquid N. And the manganese sulphate only contains a tiny amount of S. So is the crop short as a result?

"Weve seen symptoms of sulphur deficiency in rape this year for the first time; Im a little concerned," says Mr Taylor. "There are no visible signs of deficiency in the Claire but its certainly something well have to watch."