Archive Article: 1997/08/02 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

WHEN Robert Goose lifts his first early crop he has just a few days to prepare seedbeds for his second crop of first earlies, grown on the same land in the same year. The result is a total yield of 40t/ha (16t/acre).

He manages 1,200ha (3,000 acres) at Deben Farms for Velcourt, at Shottisham, near Woodbridge. This year he is cropping 130ha (325 acres) of potatoes with 15ha (38 acres) of second crop. In previous years second cropping has been up to 25ha (63 acres); the reduced area this year reflects an uncertain market and the availability of suitable land.

The technique allows better use of the farms most valuable asset – the soil, and better use of equipment dilutes fixed costs.

"This is early land in an early area and as we have water for irrigation we can exploit early potatoes," Mr Goose says.

"While some local growers follow first early potatoes with dwarf beans or sweetcorn, we opt for more of the same for part of our crop.

"But because a lot of seed is needed for two crops, double cropping is expensive and technically difficult to get just right. With a lot invested we cannot afford to get it wrong."

Arable land

The farms 965ha (2,412 acres) of arable land comprises three soil types; 240ha (600 acres) of silty clay loam, 607ha (1,500 acres) of sandy loam to loamy sand, and 118ha (295 acres) of blowing sand.

Potatoes are on the lighter land on a 1 in 5, or wider, rotation. Typically this starts with potatoes, then wheat or barley, with sugar beet in the third year, wheat or barley in the fourth. Dried peas or linseed round off the cycle before a return of potatoes. On the silty clay a wheat, beet, and rape rotation is used.

First earlies account for 56ha (140 acres), second earlies for 50ha (125 acres), with seed crops making up the remainder. About 20ha (50 acres) of the first crop of first earlies, and 12ha (30 acres) of the second earlies are grown under perforated polythene covers.

Potato land is ploughed, ridged and de-stoned in spring. Liquid fertiliser is applied between ploughing and ridging – the amount is tailored to the needs of each field and each variety.

After soil testing aldicarb (Temik) granules are applied where needed at planting to deter cyst nematodes.

Varieties used for the first crop include Rocket, Colmo and Maris Bard. Once grown farm-saved seed is put in on a 2-row bed arrangement.

"The seed-rate used depends on seed size, for the 35-45g grade, we plant sufficient to give a target population of 100,000/ha," Mr Goose explains.

"We start planting in late February as soon as a sensible early opportunity arises when soil conditions are reasonable and soil temperature acceptable. If we are covering the crop we only put in what we can cover the same day."

A pre-emergence treatment of linuron herbicide is sufficient to control weeds. It is possible to irrigate over the top of perforated polythene, the amount used is determined by neutron probes.

Where covers are used they are removed as soon as crop growth becomes restricted or the soil moisture deficit critical, usually this is about half way through the season.

Lifting starts in late May when the yield averages about 20t/ha (8t/acre).

After the land is cleared it is immediately ploughed, fertiliser is applied, and planting is done without delay to conserve soil moisture. If the land is very dry a little irrigation water is put on to get the crop away. No more aldicarb is needed for the second of the two back-to-back crops.

Varieties used for this follow-on crop include Maris Peer, Carlingford, and Charlotte.

About half the seed is home grown, the rest bought in. It is delivered in mid-winter and held in a cold store where it is kept apart from the first early material, so the day degree requirement for individual varieties can be regulated. Two to three weeks before it is needed it is taken out and warmed up so the eyes are open at planting.

This job starts around 10 June and is staggered to meet the market requirements with harvests ranging from mid-August until late October. The target yield is also 20t/ha (8t/acre).

Blight threat

Blight is a slight threat to the first of the twin crops which may be given up to two fungicide sprays. But the fungus poses a much greater threat to the second crop as the soil is warm and moist and plants are unusually small and vulnerable when the blight pressure is highest.

At 60% emergence a contact-acting fungicide is applied to ensure the fungus is not allowed to gain in the crop. Then systemic materials are applied at 10 day intervals whilst new growth is being formed, before a tin-based compound finishes off the blight control programme, just before the crop is burnt off with acid.

The other major threat to Deben Farms early potatoes is black scurf. This is controlled by a fungicide seed-dressing, and use of clean land.

All the farms first earlies are grown for pre-packing for the major supermarkets, and the second early crop is planted with Estima, Remarka, and Saxon for the early set-skin baker trade.

"Double cropping with potatoes is a high risk business which has to be managed properly. We are always learning something new to help us achieve what the quality-conscious supermarkets demand," Mr Goose concludes.

Double cropping, double profits? It is not without risks, but it can be rewarding as this Suffolk grower shows.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

WHAT the herbage seed business lacks in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm among growers and researchers alike.

Just as well, considering it attracts little funding, and agrochemical companies are loathe to pursue label recommendations for such a niche crop, believes Nick Poole, southern regional manager for the Arable Research Centre (ARC).

The ARCs herbage seed agronomy centre at Abbotts Ann near Andover in Hampshire attempts to redress this balance, and showcases its work at an open day every two years. This year the event, supported by Herbage Seed Services of East Stratton near Winchester and by WHD Seed Growers, focused on progress towards better use of inputs.

Nitrogen

Work on winter wheat in France and on herbage in New Zealand and Oregon, has established a correlation between tissue N at stem extension and final seed yield – the optimum N content for herbage seed being between 2 and 5%. This year, an ARC-funded trial is attempting to extend this relationship to chlorophyll content in the leaf measured with the N tester chlorophyll meter.

Using Anaconda, an early heading perennial ryegrass, with seven different nitrogen application rates in the range 0-180kg/ha, tissue N content and chlorophyll content were assessed at three timings around stem extension, between the end of April and mid May. The correlation was reasonable for N rates up to 100kg/ha, and stronger under the higher application rates.

"With an instant feedback from the chlorophyll meter at stem extension (GS32), which is when the correlation with final yield happens to be strongest, its not too late for extra N where its indicated," says Mr Poole. "Having established the relationship, well now be looking to get some better quantification into the system, possibly with different calibrations for different varieties."

Sulphur

Atmospheric depositions of sulphur are naturally low in the Hampshire areas. Responses to sulphur fertilisers have been established in many crops – what about herbage seed?

Experiments at the herbage agronomy centre last year showed some promising yield responses. "In each case, yields from fertiliser treatments which included sulphur exceeded those without it. However, we struggled to find statistically significant differences," comments Mr Poole.

This year, the trial attempts to define the effects of different fertiliser timings pre and post defoliation in Italian ryegrass, and also any differences between liquid and solid products.

Plant growth regulators

"As its the first new growth regulator to hit the cereal market for about 12 years, weve been trying to establish what scope Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) might have for herbage seed production," states Mr Poole.

Using a diploid and a tetraploid intermediate perennial ryegrass and nitrogen at 120kg/ha, Moddus was applied at early stem extension at 0.4 l/ha and 0.6 l/ha, the maximum total dose for winter wheat and winter barley respectively

Lodging was assessed on 29 May. "The differences were quite stunning," says Mr Poole. "The lower rate didnt have much effect, but the higher dose was significant. I know that other researchers have been experimenting with rates as high as 1.2 l/ha, but if were to persuade the manufacturers to back us, its best not to exceed the existing maximum dose.

Herbicides

Annual meadow grass is enemy number one for herbage seed growers, especially in the fine grasses, with blackgrass and winter wheat close runners up. Attempting to control any one grass within another is always going to be a case of establishing the cut off point where enough weed species is removed and sufficient crop species survives.

In an attempt to understand these cut-offs, the centre has been using a logarithmic sprayer which reduces output along the length of each plot from full down to 0.15 rate. "Its just a crude look-see, but its identifying some products where there may be more mileage than wed thought," says Mr Poole, though he stresses that many of the products currently have no approval in herbage seed.

Topik (clodinafop-propargyl) has been picked out as having potential. "While its generally held to be more damaging than Wildcat (fenoxaprop and P-ethyl) on perennial ryegrass, it may have some advantages for blackgrass control," he adds.

Falcon (propaquizafop) has shown some scope in removing volunteer wheat and barley, at quarter rate. But Mr Poole stressed that the trials were screening only, and could not advise on the basis of them.

The Centre is also evaluating the new branded product, Bolero (diflufenican and terbuthylazine) for the second year. Although it has no approval, it has given promising results in terms of control of broad-leaved weeds and some control of meadow grass in perennial ryegrass.

Fungicides

Four chemicals were assessed at two timings in fungicide trials in 1995 and 1996 at the centre. The most damaging diseases, according to Bill Welling, of Herbage Seed Services, are brown rust and stem rust. Mildew might look more dramatic during May and June but, because the plants are producing so much green matter, they can afford to lose a little, he adds.

Pressure from brown rust is usually highest in the last two weeks of June, while stem rust generally peaks in the first two weeks of July under higher temperatures. This would account for the better control recorded from the later applications – the third week of May rather than the third week of April.

The problem with later applications is that some of the newer fungicides keep the crop so green that there was a risk of a two-tier maturity.

"By the time its fit to harvest, much of the seed has been shed," he explains. This was most notable in intermediate ryegrass varieties, with the intermediate tetraploids particularly uneven in development, but also most susceptible to crown rust. Mr Welling maintains there is a strong case for double combining in these cases.

He also believes that the strobilurins, if the persistency which they exhibit in cereals transfers to grass, could pave the way for an early April treatment which should hold disease right through the season.

They might also overcome the need for double combining since they should encourage a uniform crop in its early stages.

Growing herbage seed is more challenging than most. Tia Rund cuts a swath through the tangle of inputs.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

WALK into a French co-ops agrochemical store and some names will be familiar now – but many have still to reach the UK.

The top selling fungicides in France this year are expected to be Opus (epoxiconazole), Opus Team (Opus + fenpropimorph), Alto (cyproconazole), Unix (cyprodinil) and Caramba (metconazole) – the latter two still awaiting UK registration. Epoxiconazole, now in its fifth year in France, has by far the largest share of the market.

Next year, French growers will get their first chance to use the new strobilurin fungicides, BASFs kresoxim-methyl and Zenecas azoxystrobin.

Use of tebuconazole (Folicur) is thought to have dropped by about a third this year because of concern about its weaker control of septoria over the past two years.

According to Jean-Baptiste Hue, of Cyanamid France, independent lab results on septoria isolates show declining activity by tebuconazole between 1993 and 1995, compared with metconazole, which rose slightly then steadied over the same period.

Useful materials

However, he points out that both materials are useful against rusts and fusarium diseases.

Metconazole, which was registered in France as Caramba, is highly active against septoria, rusts, and rhynchosporium, and has moderate activity against powdery mildew and net blotch.

Unix, which is due in the UK next year from Novartis, is being adopted by northern French wheat growers who have encountered development of eyespot resistance to prochloraz (Sportak) in some areas.

In eyespot-prone areas, most advisers are now recommending the use of Unix early, followed by a powerful triazole for septoria, and possibly a third spray against ear diseases.

Most French cereal growers opt for a two-spray strategy, with about a third going for three applications.

The strengthened pound makes agrochemical prices seem lower than in the UK, although the real cost to the French grower is probably greater in real purchasing terms. Opus cost FF250/litre (equivalent to £25/litre) this season, while Horizon (tebuconazole) was priced at FF210 (£21) and Caramba (metconazole) at FF160 (£16).

Some of the top selling fungicides in France will

be familiar to you – others wont. David Millar sheds light on their chemical stores.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

TUBER damage could be halved on many farms if operators made full use of all the adjustments available on todays harvesters.

That fact, however, is constantly ignored, according to research by the Sutton Bridge Experimental Unit (SBEU).

Pinpointing which part of your harvesting operation is causing the damage is the key to solving any potential damage or bruising in harvesting and grading operations.

Many resort to the electronic potato but there is a less hi-tech method that the SBEU carries out on behalf of growers every year. Devised at the Scottish Centre for Agricultural Engineering in 1970, it uses the following visual classification to calculate a potato damage index:

&#8226 undamaged

&#8226 scuffed (skin only broken)

&#8226 slight (flesh damage removable by two strokes of a peeler)

&#8226 severely damaged (flesh damage not removable by two strokes of a peeler)

SBEUs Patricia Harbour explains how it works: "We use a 10kg sample of potatoes. Each tuber is by hand and then individually assessed into one of the above categories. The weight of each category is recorded as a percentage of the whole 10kg sample."

A damage index is then calculated by taking the percentage weight of scuffed tubers. This figure is added to three times the percentage weight of slightly damaged tubers and, then added to seven times the percentage weight of severely damaged tubers. The multiplication factors reflect the importance of each type of damage.

The net result? Less than 50 is not worth worrying about, she says. But a damage index of more than 50 requires a rethink on the harvesting operation; more than 100 is a big problem.

An index for bruising is also used. It is carried out along similar lines, but the bruising in the tubers is accelerated by placing them into a hotbox so that visual assessments can be made.

However this system does have some disadvantages, according to Ms Harbour. "A wound of any depth receives the same weighting regardless of its length."

It is also reliant upon weighing, which can mean delays during harvesting while samples are sent back to the farm.

A new method, funded by the British Potato Council, is therefore being assessed. It involves counting the number of strokes, made with a stirrup-type potato peeler, needed to remove all damaged tissue from a given number of tubers.

So the range and spread of damage is discerned simply by the number of peels removed. Then the number of tubers in each category is counted.

However, although the new system compared well against the old damage index there are two drawbacks: "It takes longer to perform, despite there being no need to weigh the potatoes. And there is no assurance that damage scores made by different assessors using the new system would be consistent," explains Ms Harbour.

So it is back to the old damage index system for the moment, until the new one can give reliable results.

How much damage is your harvesting setup doing? Scientists are continuing their

quest to find answers.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

TAKE a second look at those virus symptoms. Just because they seem fairly subdued on the foliage doesnt mean there isnt a lot more going on below ground.

Blight may get all the attention from fungicide applications but potato virus Y accounts for 45% of all the disease on UK potato crops, points out Tom Locke, of ADAS Rosemaund.

Until recently, most of the textbook information on PVY was based on studies of King Edward and Majestic but MAFF has asked ADAS and the Central Science Laboratory to find out more about the virus effect on modern varieties.

PVY is most severe in its tuber-borne form, but can also be readily transmitted by aphids. Unlike leaf roll virus which requires the aphid to be stationary for some time sucking sap from the phloem of the plants, PVY is transmitted immediately the aphid inserts its stylet.

The virus is also classified as having two strains PVYo and the supposedly less significant PVYn but Dr Locke says inoculation trials with 12 varieties show differing reactions from each to virus infections. Seed from the trials is being saved and grown on to determine the severity of tuber-borne infection.

In 1996, Maris Piper showed a 36% yield loss to infection by PVYo but only 9% with PVYn. On the other hand, Estima infected with PVYn showed a yield loss of 25%, but only 13% to PVYo. Wilja had losses of about 7% to both strains, while Romano was rarely infected by the inoculations thanks to a high level of resistance to the virus.

Dr Locke warns that relatively minor foliar symptoms may disguise what is really happening to the tubers. "You could think there is nothing wrong with your Estima from a casual look, as the foliage mottling is typically very mild.

"But plant out the infected seed and you can get yield losses of the order of the 30-40% plus that we obtained at the ADAS sites at Terrington and Arthur Rickwood, both with PVYo."

ADAS tests home-saved seed for the virus and has found notable differences in the incidence of virus strains on different cultivars. PVYo is 43 times more common in Picasso than PVYn. Marfona and Estima are also more likely to have PVYo but Pentland Dell is much more likely to suffer from the second strain.

The blanket advice from ADAS is currently not to plant any home-saved main crop seed potatoes with more than 5% virus infection, but Dr Locke hopes it will be possible to tailor this advice more accurately in future to suit the variety involved and the strain of the virus present.

With this in mind, the new MAFF research is also looking at the effect of crop compensation where healthy plants are adjacent to those carrying virus.

If the virus-affected plant is weak, then in theory a higher than normal yield might occur in the neighbouring healthy plant. This is because it has more water, nutrition and light available to it.

However, such compensation does not occur with Estima because of the normal vigour of even the diseased plants.

Potato virus Y costs growers about £30m in lost yield. New research could help to solve the problem reports David Millar.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

Peat soils require careful management – but the

rewards can be high on these fertile fenlands.

We report on the tactics.

TRACE element deficiencies, low soil pHs and threat from weeds, mean specific crop production techniques have to be refined on East Anglias black peat fenland farms.

Peat normally holds twice as much water as clay which sustains crops in most seasons, but roots going down in search of moisture can be blocked by a layer of soil which is extremely acidic.

"This drummy layer is often only two inches thick but its pH is so low it can kill roots," says ADAS soil scientist Selwyn Richardson.

"I have seen a 2.8pH. Typically the layer is12 to 24in deep but as peat is still shrinking it is getting closer to the top. Wheat roots can go down 5ft and beet even deeper, so freedom of movement can be severely restricted."

Currently it is usually too deep to plough out but it can be broken up by sub-soiling, although acidity still has to be neutralised. Dribbling lime down from a sub-soiler is useless as insufficient can be applied.

The only feasible way to balance pH is to plough it down. But because of increasing the current high risk of manganese deficiency only 3-4t/acre should be applied, which is probably not enough to do a good job.

Manganese and copper deficiencies plus insufficient moisture uptake in a dry season are why long strawed wheat varieties do best on peatland farms.

"They seem better able to cope with manganese deficiency and drought than shorter-strawed types as they have more stem reserves," says ADASs Nigel Simpson.

"Taller types also finish better to give grain with better bushel weight, but are more prone to lodging. In a dry season there is no problem but in a wet one when growth regulators are missed, or an inappropriate rate used, there is a high risk of flat wheat."

Apart from weak stems, lodging is also caused when root anchorage in peat is insufficient to hold a plant with a mass of tillers upright. This, and because establishment is good on peat, is why lower seedrates, typically 140kg/ha, are used.

Weed density on peat is high, with severe infestations appearing almost overnight, so early removal is vital.

But small sugar beet plants are more vulnerable to herbicide than older ones. This is why ADAS is using primed seed and starter fertiliser to boost emergence and early growth – so plants are more robust and better able to cope with spraying.

Faster early growth also makes them more competitive to weeds, and with larger canopies wind erosion risk on blowing-prone soil is reduced.

"Advantage seed and starter fertiliser gives huge benefits for emergence and seedling vigour," Rickwoods Pete Saunders says. "The seed treatment gives a better and earlier start, then the fertiliser kicks-in to get the crop away."

A solarimeter under the canopy allows sunlight reaching the ground and lost to the crop to be measured. By recording the amount arriving overhead that is available for conversion into sugar can be assessed.

Beet sown with primed seed and given a kick-start trapped 57% of available sunlight compared with 49% from an untreated crop.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

IS the British Potato Council (BPC) just a watered-down version of the PMB?

ITS true that the BPC will be taking on many of the services previously supplied by the old Potato Marketing Board, and will assume many of its responsibilities, but without any regulatory powers over pricing or plantings.

But now that its members include processors, packers, merchants and traders, the Council represents the entire industry and claims to be an entirely different organisation. A fundamental change is that members are appointed, not elected.

IF the Council is serving the broader industry, will my contribution as a grower be any less?

YES first purchasers will be levied at the rate of 20p/t during BPCs first year of operation. And the grower levy will be set at £35/ha (£14/acre), both subject to Ministerial approval. These are less than the maximum allowable £40/ha (£16/acre) and 25p/t respectively.

THE BPC will presumably have inherited a register of producers from the PMB. But how will it keep tabs on the new levy payers?

THE Council has set up a register of producers based on information transferred from the PMB. It has done the same for first buyers – defined as anyone who buys or takes delivery as an agent, of 100t/year of potatoes or more, including commission agents and growers co-operatives.

Anybody already on the register will have been notified by now. Any producer or first buyer who hasnt received notice must apply for registration in writing by 30 October.

Similarly, anyone starting up in business must apply for registration within 30 days of doing so.

Penalties for failure to register or to provide returns or other information, or for making a false statement, are enforceable through the Magistrates Courts, or the Sheriffs Courts in Scotland, under the Potato Industry Development Council Order.

WHAT does the Council intend to do to help growers in this season of oversupply?

BOOSTING demand is one of the three key operational areas of the BPC. Its stated objective is "to increase consumption of British fresh and processed potato products by making our industry more competitive". This implies producing to an industry protocol covering all aspects of consumer assurance and food safety.

Meanwhile, for people to eat more potatoes, they need to be convinced of their nutritional value, their versatility and convenience. Therefore the BPC intends to build on promotional work begun by the PMB, including its ad campaign, Britains Buried Treasure.

THAT was launched back in 1991. Isnt it all a bit old hat?

MAYBE, but, according to its market research, the BPC says that the £6m spent on advertising over the past 6 years has helped the trend toward increasing carbohydrate consumption, says the BPC.

WHY has potato consumption fallen 10% over the past three years?

POTATOES still have to compete with rice, pasta and bread. While 10% is a significant drop, consumption three years ago was at a 30 year high. And although prices at the retail end fall slower than at the farmgate, low prices this season should help recover some of the lost sales. Additionally the BPC has set itself a target to increase consumption by 2%/year for its three year initial life.

Marketing activities will be aimed at growing the total market for British potatoes. That means plans for joint campaign strategies with the processors and concerted effort in the trade and catering sectors, which involves communicating with more than 400,000 outlets that sell or serve potatoes.

On the retailer front, the major multiples are an obvious target, but the independent greengrocers still play an important role, especially in early potato sales.

Overseas markets – for both human consumption and seed – will also be developed. Germany, Italy and Spain are the specific targets for high quality, added value table potatoes. The BPC aims to increase ware exports from their current level of 140,000t/year to 200,000t/year, and to increase exports of seed potatoes by 50% in the short term.

Looking ahead, while the BPC cant regulate supply, it can provide the relevant information which is needed to keep the market in balance.

WHAT will happen to all the partially-completed research projects that the PMB would have been funding?

THE transfer of assets from the old PMB means that the existing R&D programme can continue uninterrupted pending re-registration and levy collection.

Under the directorship of Mike Storey, the R&D committee will also be re-evaluating the research priorities of the industry, in consultation with, for instance, plant breeders, agrochemical manufacturers, diagnostic and software developers as well as growers.

The Council is very aware that the value of research depends on its transfer to the industry and plans to make full use of the communication channels offered by open days, seminars, roadshows, and demonstration events.

It plans to hold at least one major event every year on the four themes of harvesting and handling, planting, R&D and packing, and the seed potato business.

WILL I find BPC research reports on the Internet?

NOT yet. The Council has taken what it calls a tentative position on the net. Initially the site will be aimed primarily at consumers, with the address flagged on adverts. But ultimately it hopes to attract catering organisations, schools and so on, and to publish and disseminate information to the industry.

OF the 6.5m tonnes of potatoes harvested a year, about 3.5m will be placed in store for some period of time. Post-harvest research must be central to the industry as a whole. So whats the latest news on the future of Sutton Bridge Experimental Unit?

AGREEMENT in principle was reached at the Royal Show for the Rotagrow consortium, comprising the SAC, ADAS and Cambridge University Farm to take over management for a three year period, with an option to purchase the business. Full agreement is anticipated this month.

HOW does the Council plan to come to terms with its new responsibility for seed issues?

THE establishment of the Seed Sectoral Group was a condition of the PIDC Order. The decision of Scottish growers to disband the Scottish Seed Potato Development Council was, says Mr Walker, BPC chairman, a gesture of faith in BPCs activities for the future.

Under the chairmanship of Scottish seed producer and Council member Jim Cruickshank, the Seed Sectoral Group will enter a period of consultation before constructing standards on which to build home and export sales.

While the members of the Seed Sectoral Group are all involved in seed production and marketing, some also have ware acreage, so the requirements of the whole industry can be taken into account.

The Group will have access to resources of the BPC in marketing and R&D – to provide a strong base on which to build home and export potential.

The British Potato Council is born. Tia Rund puts your questions to the new council.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

HARVEST results will reveal whether the most expensive fungicide programme used in ADAS Rosemaund wheat trials produces the 0.5t/ha needed to cover the extra cost over the cheapest top performers.

Visually, and in assessments of septoria control, there is little to choose between £95/ha (£38.50/acre) and £55/ha (£22/acre) two-spray programmes on Riband. The most expensive cocktail was BASFs Ensign (kresoxim-methyl + fenpropimorph) at the full 0.7 litres/ha rate, plus 0.5 litres/ha Opus (epoxiconazole) at GS32/33 (May 2) followed by half-rate Ensign and 0.5 litres/ha Opus at GS39 (May 23).

For £55/ha, Dr David Jones, of ADAS Rosemaund, obtained apparently equal disease control with 0.5 litres Opus plus 1 litre/ha Bravo (chlorothalonil) followed by 0.75 litres/ha Opus and 1 litre/ha Bravo.

"At todays projected wheat prices, you need more than half-a-tonne of additional yield to justify moving up," says Dr Jones. The same Opus plus Bravo programme was the most profitable in Rosemaunds 1996 trials but he acknowledged there may be some extra maintenance of green leaf in the Ensign plot which will boost yield.

Last years work on fungicide doses for HGCA also highlighted the importance of application timing as dose rates are reduced, and that higher – but not necessarily full rates – can be more profitable due to better yield response than cheaper programmes giving apparently similar disease control.

With a full rate, says Dr Jones, application within a week either side of the optimum date may have little effect on disease control and yield but, with a reduced rate, this may only be a few days. This reduced activity is most pronounced with yellow rust but is also seen with septoria tritici.

Greater disease pressure this year shows up the poorer performance of mixtures which reduce the rate of Opus too much – as low as 0.25 litres/ha – and highlights the advantages of adding Bravo.

Dr Jones points out that while BASF has gone immediately down the formulation route with its strobilurin – kresoxim-methyl – Zeneca has made azoxystrobin available on its own as Amistar. However, he feels its protectant activity needs the addition of a triazole partner to eradicate any disease present when the spray application is made.

"I see the strobilurins as being very much ideal partners for triazole fungicides because the triazoles will affect disease which is already starting to develop while the new chemicals give long-lasting protection against further infection," says Dr Jones.

"I would use Amistar at GS31 plus a triazole which neednt be the best triazole, but should be strong enough for early eradicant activity."

However, for the best performance with the strobilurins he favoured an early application combined with a powerful triazole such as Opus, followed by 0.5 litres/ha Opus on its own at GS39. On current pricing this might work out at about £75/ha (£30/acre) but prices for next season could easily change because of market competition to favour alternatives which are currently more expensive.

With wheat valued at £80/t or less, and a number of new products coming into UK market, there is likely to be downward pressure on prices as the old and new materials jockey for market share.

REGIONAL REACTION

1. SCOTLAND

IT IS important for growers to realise each strobilurin has a different spectrum of control, and that many of the new fungicides are good protectants, but wont deal with pre-existing disease, says Simon Oxley of the Scottish Agricultural College.

Quinoxyfen (Fortress) is a good protectant against mildew but not an eradicant like the morpholines to which farmers are used to, he points out. On barley, a mixture of Fortress for mildew control and Amistar against net blotch could be a good option.

"My main worry about strobilurins is that people treat them like triazoles or put them on too late while cutting the rate too much," he adds.

2. SUSSEX

FUSARIUM, Septoria nodorum, mildew and sooty moulds all flourished in southern cereal crops during June. "Amistar controls the range of diseases that are appearing this month, and it will prolong the green leaf area and delay natural senescence," says Zeneca technical manager, Chris Ursell.

David Andrews, of Chichester-based distributor Bartholomews, has Amistar in company trials. He is an advocate of prophylactic spraying at the critical timings although he acknowledges that ear wash sprays pay in only two out of five years.

"This season we are sure ear treatments will be cost-effective. MBC-based products have not worked for a number of years, probably due to resistance, so we are recommending specific ear spray triazoles such as Plover and Folicur."

3. CAMBRIDGESHIRE

&#42 L HUTCHINSON deliberately piled the pressure on to new chemistry at its demonstration site at Walsoken near its Wisbech headquarters.

All products were applied at third node stage, which would not have shown any to their full advantage, but provided a benchmark at least.

Farming below sea level, frequent early morning mists and heavy dews keep diseases ticking over when the rest of the country is drying out and also contributes to high levels of mildew. Company agronomist Andrew McShane picks out Fortress in particular as giving long lasting protection against this disease and "tremendous" responses even at half rate.

While not specifically positioned as a mildewicide, Amistar showed good activity against the disease on the barleys Fanfare, Regina and Rifle, he adds.

Against Zenecas guidance, Amistar had been applied without a triazole partner. Even without any anticipated yield effect, Mr McShane describes it as a tremendous product for its fungicidal activity alone.

BASF maintains that Ensign, the second strobilurin, should have been applied earlier. But, nevertheless, held yellow rust well given the pressure level and, for a single full dose, had also done a good job against septoria tritici in Consort.

Looking forward a few years, Cyanamids metconazole promised to prove a "cracking" triazole in the epoxiconazole league. It had done an "excellent" job against yellow rust in Brigadier considering the disease pressure and also against septoria tritici and generally had kept barley clean. Mr McShanes verdict – "a good all-round top quality triazole, though we wont see any real revolutions in triazole chemistry now."

Tetraconazole from Monsanto looked a good all rounder but was no better than the current standards and might struggle to find a place in the UK. But he is quite impressed with AgrEvos fluquinconazole which had held off yellow rust. Novartis SAR (Systemic Activated Resistance), though supposed only to boost mildew resistance, had also some effect against rust.

Unix (cyprodinil) from Novartis, was a good product for mildew and stem base disease control, with some septoria nodorum activity. It was also a good barley product.

However, it had a weakness against yellow rust. With the acquisition of cyproconazole from the Sandoz stable, strategies combining the two products could be anticipated.

Mr McShane also subscribes to the view that a degree of common sense might be injected into pricing over the next 12 months.

Meanwhile reducing inputs might be a false economy, as the end result might be a poor sample, not even worth £80/t, and difficult to sell.

4. HUMBERSIDE

DONT think of new chemistry simply as good fungicides but as yield enhancers to get the best potential from your crops.

And Craig Morgan, technical manager with Profarma, adds that the best results will come from crops on poorer, light land or grown in stressed conditions.

On the unstressed silty loam at the CWS Goole estate where Profarma has its northern trials, he does not expect either straight strobilurins or mixtures to demonstrate their full capabilities. After all, untreated Brigadier has yielded 12t/ha (4.86t/acre) on the site, he points out.

"Where the new chemistry will score over the triazoles is on less retentive moisture sites," adds Mr Morgan. He favours selecting for these sites, varieties which are inherently likely to retain green leaf tissue longer than others. "These are the likely candidates on which to use strobilurin materials. Because of the poorer soils there may be more to gain, than for growers on better soils."

Earlier Profarma work has identified Encore, Drake and Rialto as wheat varieties that retain their green leaf area longer. CWS Agriculture has picked up on the trials and is planning to drill a large acreage of Encore this year in drought-prone fields at its Cheshire estate.

Mr Morgan warns growers and consultants against trying to fit reduced rates of strobilurins into fixed budget fungicide programmes just for the sake of it. His Yorkshire trials show that green leaf area is retained provided a full unit of strobilurin is used – although it can be split – but disease control suffers when the total dose is reduced.

How do new generation fungicides stack up against familiar mixtures? We seek economic, and technical, advice across the country.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

BE PREPARED – tough times are ahead. Heard it before? This gloomy message crops up regularly – so regularly, in fact, that few could be blamed for ignoring it.

After all, in the past few years UK agriculture has always seen something come to the rescue. First, the weak pound saved our bacon. Then bullish global grain markets lifted returns. And last year a surprisingly good harvest raised everyones spirits.

But now the omens are looking worse than they have been for a long time. Crop physiologists are predicting that the cold, wet June could take up to 20% off yields this season. If the weather stays unsettled, grain quality is also at risk.

Sterling is continuing from strength to strength, making it highly likely that we will see yet another revaluation of the green pound – in the wrong direction for arable margins – during mid August. That bodes ill for any prospect of recovery in the sickly grain and oilseed markets.

And now the politicians are piling on the agony. The Agenda 2000 proposals make worrying reading (see below). Cuts in intervention prices; reduced area aid compensation; a body blow to oilseed and pulse support. Add in the threat of modulation, where aid is removed from larger units, and it appears that UK growers have little to be optimistic about….

But before we sink into depression, lets take stock. The UK arable industry has achieved much in the past few years.

It is now one of the most efficient in Europe, and well placed to compete in world markets – even if that requires some adjustment. Being flexible and quick to respond to changing times is what is needed. Our sophisticated industry has the expertise to do just that.

Good information is critical. Growers must understand exactly what lies ahead, in order to tackle these future challenges. We must know the enemy – forewarned is forearmed. Now, more than ever before, the industry needs expert guidance – to prove the pessimists wrong.

The minister must take the lead and make sure that the reorganised MAFF, shorn of the new privatised ADAS, still gets key research information to the industry. Growers will also expect the HGCA to provide value for money for its own research programme. The current uncertainty will create even greater demand for the HGCAs increasingly crucial market intelligence.

More belt tightening on the arable agenda

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

A YEAR ago, experts predicted arable land values were close to peaking and that any further increases would be fuelled by the re-emergence of rollover funds, from within and outside the industry. That is exactly what happened.

Despite sharp downturns in forward prices for cereals, activity was dramatically increased in the run-up to the Budget.

Assessing the unrivalled benefits of rollover, re-investment, inheritance tax and capital gains tax reliefs, on agricultural land is a relatively simple exercise compared with crystal ball gazing on world commodity markets.

One of the few election statements new Labour had been confident in making about rural affairs was that it perceived agricultural land to be a tax haven.

Solicitors and land agents were working to the early hours under the threat of stamp duty being raised as high as a rumoured 7%, and a potentially swingeing attack on capital taxes. Much to everyones surprise, nothing happened beyond a slight increase in stamp duty, to 1.5% on property over £250,000 and 2% on property over £500,000. In itself, that is not likely to have anything more than a stabilising effect on the market.

"The south, or south east, is generating a lot of wealth," says Tony Morris-Eyton of Knight Frank, London. "Although the pound is affecting some businesses, there is still a great deal of money looking for agricultural land.

By comparison, farmers are having to weigh a land purchase up against world cereal prices and the effect of the strong £, whats going to happen to potato prices, and the effect of the weather."

Even before the Budget, the land market had begun to show signs of disparity. On one hand, premium prices of 20% or more were being paid in competitive circumstances, and for farms with a strong residential element. On the other hand, farmers and land agents in predominantly arable areas were becoming keenly aware of the pressures on the cereal sector.

Two pre-Budget sales of similar quality arable land in Dorset resulted in one block selling for £7,660/ha (£3,100/acre) and the other for less than £5,930/ha (£2,400/acre). Laurence Goulds recently published confidence index displays the potential effect of lower wheat output on land values and predicts that should other strong influences on the market be removed, land values could fall by 30%.

More modest predictions are made by land agents Clegg Kennedy Drew (up to 10% during the next12 months) and Savills (up to 20% over the next two to three years).

Despite recording an overall increase of 1.1% in the average value of British farmland over the last six months, boosted by values in Scotland and in areas with a residential premium, the latest Savills Farmland Value Survey records a dip of 1.4% in the eastern counties, 1.3% in the East Midlands and 1.8% in the West Midlands.

It puts prime arable land at an average of £7,155/ha (£2,897/acre), up 0.7% on the year, against an average 116.4% rise since 1992.

The deadline pressure of the July Budget has passed. Supply and demand will continue to be the key factor and there is no sign of an increased supply of land onto the market. The buying power that remains at the top end of the agricultural industry will be offset by increasing pressure on those whose businesses have been sustained by high, perhaps false, profitability over the last few years.

Even since the Budget, several Norfolk farmers have paid around £11,115/ha (£4,500/acre) for extra land, in the knowledge of wheat prices less than £80/t. Buyers looking for land in south Lincolnshire are said to be prepared to pay at least as much as six months ago. As always, eyes will be watching the heavier, cereal-only soil in the Fens, which always provides the first indication of a fading market.

Jim Major of Brown & Co believes that land values will continue to defy gravity. "Farm incomes are only part of the picture," he said. "Despite what consultants are saying, there are strong elements in the market that will prevail against the obvious factors that will affect farm incomes."

The first is that there remains a great deal of unspent farming profit. "There are significant numbers of parishes and farmers in this position," said Mr Major, "although I agree with the view that lower demand for poorer quality land will bring its value down."

The second is the lack of Budget action. It is little more than a nine-month reprieve that will fuel continued transactions, albeit in a patchier market, allowing landowners to restructure and to state their case against, for example, possible changes to inheritance tax relief. The March 1998 Budget may have a more dramatic effect coming late.

"The Chancellor has effectively said, be warned," says Jim Bryant of Bidwells.

Declining confidence in grain prices is having an impact on land values, as Catherine Paice explains.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

AS THE supplier of nearly half a million tonnes of potatoes a year to customers such as J Sainsbury, McCain Foods and Whitbread, the MBM group is already facing demands for greater product traceability and reduced usage of inputs.

The Integrated Crop Management (ICM) theme, at the March open day, provided a forum for customers to outline their needs. At the same time, MBM added its own encouragement to full grower participation in ICM schemes.

Event organiser Tim Berry supported the recent NFU/retailer partnership – a scheme which will independently verify that around 6000 fresh vegetable growers are using ICM protocols. "We believe that ICM will form the central plank of the marketing of all agricultural and horticultural produce in the future," he said.

"There are two choices – to embrace the concept enthusiastically and to make a good job of it, or to find oneself in the precarious position of having very limited market outlets."

John Manchett, managing director of the March site, added: "The environment is now firmly on the list of consumer demands and rising in the order of priority. We ignore it at our peril."

MBMs role, he explained, was to interpret the protocols on behalf of growers, but he believed that the technical support required would incur high annual costs.

Caroline Drummond, LEAF project co-ordinator, argued that for the grower at least, the resources demanded by ICM were more managerial than financial. She described ICM as a way of auditing ones own conscience. "Its also a constant reminder that youre handling food, which can be easy to forget, especially with cereals.

"Selling in the future is going to be conditional on ICM, especially given the influence of the supermarkets. So be prepared and do it now," she urged.

LEAF demonstration farmer, Henry Cator of Rotac Farms, agreed. "ICM wont make us any money, but it will get us on the retailers shelves." He also suggested growers turn the tables by challenging the environmental commitment of suppliers and customers.

One of MBMs largest end users is J Sainsbury. Simon Thirkell, technical manager for fresh vegetables, said that pesticide residues were the number one concern expressed in his companys mailbag, followed by spray drift, factory farming and intensive agriculture, loss of habitat and declining bird populations. The latter, he added, was an issue which the public easily relate to and, rightly or wrongly, associated with modern farming.

ICM, he said, is not a panacea, but it does start to address these concerns. He, too, could see a day when growers not conforming to ICM protocols would not be part of J Sainsburys supplier portfolio.

When asked whether, given that such a commitment to ICM must be of value to the multiple retailers, any of the financial reward might be passed back to producers. He reminded the audience that while supermarkets couldnt work without suppliers, neither could growers work without an outlet for their produce.

However, he was able to give reassurance that imported produce is coming under similar scrutiny with protocols specific to J Sainsbury being imposed on a country by country basis. South Africa and Chile have well developed ICM programmes, he added.

Another major end user is McDonalds, which purchases its french fries via McCain Foods. Barbara Crawford, of McDonalds, explained that while her company is not directly involved in ICM, it did support its principles.

"Were looking for full information on products – not just traceability, but transparency too. Were requesting this from our suppliers and they will expect you to have it available in the same way.

"The UK farming industry has received some bad press. We may think its unjustified but, whatever our own view, we need to consider how our customers perceive things. Perceptions become a reality to them," she added.

Robert Sturdy, MEP for Cambs, described that reality. About 68% of European citizens are concerned about food safety, he said, while 35% believe food is actually unsafe. "Food isnt just the petrol to drive another engine – it touches the people, the culture, a whole way of life."

Among the publics anxieties is a fear of the unknown and GMOs were therefore going to cause widespread concern.

Integrated crop management topped the menu at MBMs open day last month. Tia Rund reports.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

ASPECTS of seed quality vary in importance, depending on the crop and its intended market.

Fundamental to any good crop is good germination, followed by low levels of other crop species seeds, weed seeds, chaff and so on. And seed-borne diseases, such as loose smut in barley, can increase rapidly in only a few generations of seed.

The varietal purity of seed is important both for the crop itself and for the quality of produce. Crops of low varietal purity may ripen unevenly, leading to problems with shedding or combining.

Grain contaminated with another variety or off-types, resulting from cross-pollination, may fail to meet the specific requirements of end-users. For example, contamination of bread wheat with a feed variety will reduce hagberg, and contamination of malting barley can lead to rejection or lower premiums.

Producing quality seed depends on a system of quality assurance. For most seed this means the statutory certification schemes, but with attention to detail there is no reason why farm-saved seed cannot also meet farmers requirements.

In 1996 the proportion of crops grown from certified seed varied from about 50% for field beans to almost 80% for winter barley.

Almost 75% of C2 cereal seed is certified at the Higher Voluntary Standard (HVS) – meeting higher standards for contamination with seeds of other cereals and weeds, and for varietal purity.

Standards of other seed contamination for HVS C2 seed, for instance, is 3 seeds in 1kg compared with 7 in 500g for the minimum C2 standard. Similarly wild oats are not allowed in the HVS standard, but in theory, one wild oat in 1kg is for the minimum C2 standard.

The certification process starts with very high quality breeders seed, which after several generations produces C2 seed.

There are normally five generations involved; breeders seed, pre-basic, basic, C1 and C2. However, this can be reduced to three generations if necessary.

The three main quality controls are:

&#8226 laboratory examination and control plots of parent seed

&#8226 inspection of seed crops

&#8226 testing purity and germination

Seed crops and seed must meet these standards at each stage.

Savings can be made with farm-saved seed, but there is a risk without quality control checks equivalent to those used in certification. This means checking the crop, cleaning the seed carefully, and having it tested for purity and germination at a seed laboratory.

NIAB conducts seed tests for various diseases. The cost is £48 for loose smut on barley, £52 for net blotch and leaf stripe on barley and £48 for fusarium on wheat seed.

Some important aspects of seed quality, such as varietal purity, rely on starting with a good parent seed stock. For this reason most farm-saved seed is once grown from C1 or C2 seed, and is ultimately dependent on the certification system.

It is risky to home-save seed for more than one generation because the seed becomes too far removed from the guarantees of certified seed – in other words, varietal purity and contamination assurance.

That is not to say that certified seed is perfect. In a very small number of cases things go wrong at any stage, from harvesting to delivery of seed. The system is designed to stop mistakes in the first place and to detect them before the seed reaches growers.

Why is seed quality so important? Andrew Mitchell, head of NIABs seed production explains .

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

ALL growers supplying frozen vegetable company Tendafrost have now agreed to undergo environmental scrutiny, via the LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) audit.

"This audit is now required by us as a condition of supply," says Graham Hillier, field vegetable auditor with the company, which provides about 50,000t/year of frozen vegetables to all the major retailers.

Although some of the 40 producers and producer groups were "understandably a little reluctant" at first, Mr Hillier says they are now fully committed to the initiative, and support the companys lead. The audit cost is £23.50.

"We have been using quality assurance for many years, but felt that the LEAF audit provided a sound environmental base, on to which other requirements can be bolted," explains Mr Hillier.

One major benefit of the LEAF audit is that it is a whole farm scheme, covering all crops, comments Norfolk grower David Richardson, LEAF director. "There is a real danger that we could see half a dozen assessors on farms, monitoring standards for different products."

However, external assessors do not conduct the LEAF audit; it is a self-assessment scheme. LEAF co-ordinator, Caroline Drummond, does not rule out independent verification of the audit at some future point.

In conducting an audit, the grower fills in a form which goes through all the management processes in detail, with the aim of highlighting weak areas, in particular those with an impact on the environment. Mr Hillier will be monitoring the results of each Tendafrost producers audit.

"For us, the LEAF audit is a selling point to our supermarket and manufacturing customers," he says.

Will more companies follow suit? According to Mr Richardson, interest in the LEAF audit as an environmental quality assessment tool is growing.

"Food and drink retailers and processors such as J Sainsbury, Birds Eye Walls and brewer Shepherd Neame have asked farmers who supply their raw materials to join LEAF and conduct an audit," says Mr Richardson. "Several more major food companies are now having similar discussions with us."

The NFU has put together a number of horticultural crop protocols, worked out in agreement with many major retailers. The organisation is also taking a leading role in the introduction of the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme, launched two months ago.

"The LEAF audit is compatible with these other schemes, but its provisions go well beyond these foundations," says Mr Richardson.

One major difference, he suggests, is that the LEAF seal of approval gives food companies the confidence to assure customers that what they sell is "ethically produced". Mr Richardson sees no conflict of interest between the Assured Combinable Crops Scheme and the LEAF initiative.

As a member of the initial steering group of the Assured Combinable Crops scheme, Mr Richardson admits that he would have liked to see its protocols drawn up with more emphasis on the environment.

There may be a way to clinch that special contract. Gilly Johnson finds out how.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

Agenda 2000: the proposals

&#8226 INTERVENTION PRICES

To be reduced by a third, in 2000/01. Equivalent to about a £16/t fall for grain, depending on green rate movements.

&#8226 AREA AID PAYMENTS

To be increased, but only by enough to compensate for about half of the drop in intervention prices. Also, area aid to be the same for all crops – bar proteins. This means less, relatively, for oilseeds. Approx new rates: cereals £300/ha; oilseeds £300/ha, depending on region and green pound (current rates 1996/97 are £267/ha and £448/ha respectively). This would also include a mechanism to avoid over-compensation if market prices rise.

&#8226 SET-ASIDE

To be eliminated. Voluntary set-aside would remain, under reduced payments (11.5% less).

&#8226 PROTEIN CROPS

Aid to be increased, relative to cereals. This would mean the pulse aid would fall, but by less (from 1996/97 rate of £385/ha to £329/ha).

&#8226 FORAGE MAIZE

To be removed from support arrangements.

&#8226 MODULATION

To impose limits on maximum payments on arable businesses; what these limits are, is to be determined by national governments under common EU guidelines.

&#8226 CAP WIDENED

To include issues such as food safety and quality, and environmental objectives.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997


Seed treatments


For wheat…

££

Baytan

£

Panoctine, Sibutol

Beret Gold

Anchor

For barley…

££

Baytan, Ferrax

£

Raxil S, Panoctine Plus

Beret Gold

Anchor

Vitaflow Extra

£ denotes relative values

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997


Area Tonnage

basis £/ha basis £/t

1996/97 1997/98 1996/97 1997/98

Wheat 4.25 4.44 22.37 23.37

Winter barley 3.60 3.80 20.00 21.11

Spring barley 3.70 3.91 21.76 23.00

Oats 3.14 3.14 17.44 17.44

Peas 6.33 5.65 30.14 26.90

Beans 3.85 4.22 19.25 21.10

Oilseed rape 8.26 8.26 1,180.00 1,180.00

Linseed 7.60 7.60 146.15 146.15

Source: BSPB


FSS royalty payment rates for 1997/98

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

A Yorkshire potato business has used the same make of harvester for 28 years. Alan Swaby finds out how the very latest model is shaping up.

ITS early days yet but already John Scholes has stepped up his harvest work rate and reduced the number of staff needed to keep the new Grimme GZ1700 working.

With 28 years of experience with Grimme harvesters, its little wonder the John Scholes Potatoes business was given an early option on the radically-different GZ1700 when it started to roll off the production line.

"I was able to see this machine last autumn when Grimme trialled it on my property, I then followed it to other farms in this area," says Mr Scholes, who admits to not being mechanically-minded, but believes that experience allows him to judge whether something looks right or not.

"We had a good look at the GZ on both light and heavy soils before finally buying the machine at Smithfield. My feeling is that this will be a wonderful machine – much better than earlier models."

From their base at Nab House, about 10 miles north of Driffield in the Yorkshire Wolds, heavy soils are something the Scholes family – John, his son Richard, and daughter Rachel – know all about.

"Most of the land is medium loam over chalk which really holds in moisture – which is just as well as we have irrigation on only 150 of our 750 acres of potatoes," says Mr Scholes.

However, heavy levels of rain during July meant about 20cm (8in) fell in one four-week period, with around 6.4cm (2.5in) over the six days before potato harvesting started.

"If ever you wanted to see how a harvester was going to shape up in heavy soil, this was the time to do it."

Mr Scholes decided not to go for the hydraulic wheel option on his £44,000 harvester. This option is aimed at users with heavy soils, but Grimme claims that the tractor wheel slip is reduced in any case by a pick-up hitch towing connection, which means the harvesters weight is transferred to the point closest to the tractors rear axle to aid traction.

"The GZ1700 is surprisingly light, and we havent missed power drive at all, even though weve been working some particularly wet fields," Mr Scholes points out.

Previously, the 850ha (2,100 acres) Scholes enterprise worked three Grimme All-Rounder harvesters – two of which have been held in reserve and for spares.

In Mr Scholes opinion, the GZ1700 scores over its predecessors in its work rate and ability to tackle heavy ground. He estimates the GZ is doing about one-and-a-half times the work load of an All-Rounder. Ware crop yields vary from 37-74t/ha (15-30t/acre).

Better still, he is able to reduce the mind-numbingly boring work of stripping trash from the harvester. "We used to need four workers on the All-Rounder. But so far, in the worst conditions, weve only had two on the new GZ. Where the soil is not so heavy, we havent bothered putting on any."

The single web design means that conventional haulm removing rollers, normally situated between the main and secondary web on harvesters, are not used. Instead, harvested material passes from the main web – adjustable from the tractor cab to create a soil-removing wave effect – to a haulm separator using polyurethane and rubber rollers.

Topping needed

This year the Scholes have found no need to do any topping at all, although it may become necessary if the haulm gets too heavy on the King Edward, Desiree, Squire, Maris Bard, Marfona, Cara and Nadine grown at Nab House.

The full width, haulm removal gear has been very impressive in removing the tops without experiencing any build-up or blockage in the stripping mechanism – or in the separator mechanisms.

After the haulm separator comes a new design of clod separator which avoids the usual violent changes of direction which can cause tuber damage as they hit the separating rollers. Four rows of plastic stars, each with a solid clod roller, remove clods, small stones and any remaining haulm or weeds.

Although the new wave belt and separators may protect the tubers even more than before, Mr Scholes says he will be happy to maintain the 9% fault level reached in recent years with earlier models – especially since damage levels can climb to 30% on some other harvesters.

Setting up the machine has meant calling in Grimme engineers to work on the separators and the star selections. However, it is difficult to get Mr Scholes to say a bad word about the GZ1700.

"Grimmes policy is to have spares readily available and as far as I can tell they are as competitive as the others on servicing. No, I am sorry. I cant think of a damn thing wrong with this machine."

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

THE thorny issue of royalties on farm-saved seed (FSS) has been hammered out – successfully – between the plant breeders and the farming unions. Both sides should be congratulated on reaching what appears to be a fair deal.

Following a false start two years ago, the revised system for collecting the cash seems to have operated without a hitch this season. But now there are rumbles of discontent regarding the exemption of older varieties such as Riband, Hereward and Soissons. The plant breeders have always promised the industry that such old favourites will be free from FSS royalties until June 2001.

Due to the way the legislation has been framed in Europe, and so as a result in the UK, the plant breeders could change their minds – legally.

But they insist they will not. Now the seed processors, from within the National Association of Agricultural Contractors, are asking for more: a legal commitment to a permanent exemption for these older varieties. This all smacks of a degree of posturing.

What growers want is a reasonable deal. They are willing to pay something for the privilege of farm saved seed – to keep the new varieties coming. Is it worth wrangling, at this early stage, over the older varieties exemption?

Riband is probably the major player – but inevitably the area down to this wheat will drop off in four years time – even in Scotland, where it is the distillers favourite. By then Riband would be enjoying its twelfth birthday as a commercial variety – high time for retirement.

Plant breeders and growers must work together, with trust. As the squeeze on arable margins bites, both sides will need each other more than ever. Unnecessary confrontation should be avoided; there are plenty of potentially difficult issues.

For example, still to be sorted out is the compulsory licensing system for seed producers, which urgently needs reviewing – particularly relevant in the potato sector. Supermarkets are insisting on certain varieties, but producers often find it hard, and expensive, to source seed supplies. These are meaty issues for negotiators.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

A novel tracked tractor – the Case IH Steiger Quadtrac – is set to make its mark on two Essex farms this autumn. Peter Hill reports.

RENEWED interest in the power output of US-style Prairie tractors and the low ground pressure advantages of tracks has been forged in a machine that makes its commercial working debut on farms this year.

The 360hp (SAE gross) Case IH Steiger Quadtrac is based on the wheeled articulated tractors built at the Case-Steiger operation in North Dakota. But instead of wheels, the Quadtrac has a triangular track frame at each corner.

This unique configuration means that, unlike rigid chassis tractors converted to tracks, the tractors original bend in the middle steering system can be used. The only major change is to the axles which need different reduction gearing.

The large track area reduces ground pressure and gives plenty of traction in favourable conditions, says Case, especially since the four independent track frames can oscillate to some extent over ground undulations. That should also help give drivers a more comfortable ride, particularly on secondary cultivations work.

Tom and Robert Howie, based at Tolleshunt Major, near Maldon, are waiting for their Quadtrac to make the journey across the Atlantic. They specialise in arable contract management, farming a total of 1,420ha (3,508 acres).

Down-to-earth reasoning is behind the purchase of the big tractor, which is significantly more powerful than the high horsepower conventional tractors used at present.

Last year, all cultivations and drilling work was performed by three John Deeres – a 260hp 8400, a 228hp 4955 and an ageing 215hp 4850. The Quadtrac will replace the two older tractors, which should bring a reduction in long-term power, maintenance, labour and running costs.

"Weve discounted big articulated four-wheel drive tractors before, simply because of the weight and lack of mobility on duals," says Mr Howie. "Weve also looked at conventional rubber tracked crawlers, but have been put off by the scuffing and power drag during headland turns. The Quadtrac combines the advantages of both types of tractor without the drawbacks."

The Quadtrac concept may be new but, being based on the Case 9370/9380 Steiger chassis, uses proven components so reliability should not be a factor.

They may be big and powerful but they are also relatively simple – two coupled frames with engine, axles and cab attached. The introduction of better-appointed cabs and powershift gearboxes has increased their appeal by meeting driver expectations this side of the Atlantic.

The Howie brothers grow wheat and barley, oilseed rape, linseed, sugar beet, potatoes, beans, sweet corn and peas on a dozen blocks of land stretching 32km end-to-end. That puts a premium on mobility; the John Deere 8400 copes on large Trelleborg singles but duals on the other two have been a nuisance, says Robert Howie.

With an overall width of 3.04m and a road speed of 30kph, the Quadtrac raises no concerns on this count. At the same time, the four individual track sections bring ground pressure down to an impressive 0.34bar (5psi).

Soils ranging from gravel to heavy London clay mean compaction is a significant concern on the Howies heavier land.

"We do sample digs in the spring to decide fields that need subsoiling after harvest, then build that into the cultivations schedule," notes Robert Howie. "Minimising compaction in the first place is clearly worthwhile, and the Quadtrac should help in that respect."

Land destined for spring crops is ploughed but discing is the favoured approach for autumn-sowing as the most time and cost-efficient option.

Subsoiling, where necessary, slots between passes with a set of Simba discs which combine 3B and 4B gangs for a progressive action, plus a ring press to consolidate the soil and some moisture. Seed bed working and sowing is then completed using an 8m Vaderstad disc drill.

This approach will be streamlined to some extent this year with the purchase of a Maxi-Lift 450-series cultivator-subsoiler combination from Tim Howard Engineering.

This 5.4m wide trailed unit, with its nine subsoiler tines on a swept-back folding frame, will increase subsoiling capacity for one thing, releasing the Quadtrac for heavy discing work later on.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

Anyone saving their own seed must pay more to the breeders this autumn. Gilly Johnson reports.

ROYALTY rates on farm-saved seed (FSS) are going up by about 5% – but this rise is not expected to generate any bad feeling between growers and breeders. Thats because the hike in rates follows an agreed formula linking FSS rates to the proportion of home-saved seed being used.

If more growers save seed, then rates go up. And the proportion of farm-saved cereal seed has risen – by about 1% to 32%.

This is probably a reflection of a high quality, dry harvest last year, rather than due to the impact of any prospective royalty charge. This has triggered some changes to the royalty rates payable (see table), which have risen by £1/t for wheat and a little more for barley.

In peas, the use of farm-saved seed has fallen. As a result, the royalty rate has dropped by £3.24/t.

With rain and disease currently raising worries about harvest quality, it seems highly likely that the volume of farm-saved seed will drop and lead to a fall in royalty charges.

Collecting FSS royalties went smoothly last season, with the majority of growers honouring the new requirement to pay. With about £1.7m extra cash in the kitty, the plant breeders are pleased with the industrys "positive response".

Confrontation was avoided, thanks to good co-operation between breeders, the trade and farming unions, says Dr Roger Turner, chief executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders (BSPB).

The collection system proved hassle-free. Most of the payments came in via BSPB-registered seed processors and merchants. The royalty charge appears as an extra item on the seed cleaning invoice, and so growers arent obliged to take the trouble of calculating their own liability.

The seed processors then pass the money on to the BSPB. The big advantage of this payment scheme is its simplicity for growers, which must go some way to easing the pain of payment.

Growers can still elect to pay the charge themselves, rather than through a BSPB-registered seed processor. This might be appropriate when cleaning seed on-farm with an unregistered processor, or using FSS unprocessed.

Where payment is made direct, then it has to be calculated on an area basis, rather than per tonne of seed. The grower has to work out their own liability, and return a completed form with payment to the BSPB. In this situation, the area charges (see table) are worked out using average seed rates.

If this area option was not available, and all payments were collected on a tonnage basis, then anyone using a high seed rate – routine in Scotland where seedbed conditions are more difficult – would effectively be paying more. Allowing the area option was one way of redressing the balance for northern growers. However, it is not clear whether it will continue indefinitely.

In general, the consensus is that growers are willing to pay the price, to ensure that the flow of new varieties does not dry up. "Its absolutely right that we should pay, and at present the rate seems fair," says Roger Waite, regional farms director with farming company Velcourt. "And this season the collection scheme and the form-filling has not proved any problem for us."

On the three Kent units he controls, farm-saved seed makes up about 30% of the 2,330ha (945 acres) arable area in an average season. This proportion is not affected "in any way" by the imposition of the royalty charge. "We are home saving to ensure top quality, and to have seed at the right time."

Because of their suitability for early drilling and proven yield performance, Mr Waite continues to grow several older varieties such as Riband, Beaver and Haven. At present these do not incur FSS royalties. Under the agreement between the BSPB and farming unions, these old varieties will not be liable to be included in the scheme until 2001.

Dr Turner stresses that this will not change, although under new legislation the BSPB would be legally allowed to claim payment before then – if it so desired.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

French farmers have been living with lower grain prices for a little longer than their UK counterparts. David Millar finds out how arable farmers there are adapting.

A CURIOUS mix of the traditional with rapid adoption of the latest agronomy and added value techniques is found on French farms.

"We know of potato growers who apply their blight fungicides every Monday because that is what they have always done," says Jean-Baptiste Hue, of Cyanamid France. "Crops are being over-treated but we are moving to reasoned treatment," he adds.

At the same time potato and – to a greater extent – cereal growers are re-examining their allegiance to older but cheap products such as mancozeb and maneb for potato blight and adopting cutting edge blight fungicides or new chemistry for controlling cereal disease.

The reasons for this are not hard to find. French growers have not had the luxury of green money revaluations enjoyed by UK counterparts.

They have, therefore, lived longer with falling end prices despite the insulation many receive from pooling their combinable crops into co-operative stores.

In addition, just as in the UK, supermarket buyers are exerting their influence more and more across a number of sectors.

Carrefour, for example, is specifying nitrogen and agrochemical inputs for specific varieties. It supports the use of new anti-blight products such as fluazinam (Shirlan) or dimethomorph and mancozeb (Invader in the UK) which, unlike older products, dont have to be re-applied immediately after irrigation.

Growers are responding to the pressure of the marketplace by switching their acreage into crops they see are in demand, and by treating those crops according to end user requirements.

Alain Decorte, who farms 400ha (1,000 acres) at Villereau, near Chartres, has switched some of his cereal production into 40ha each of potatoes and field vegetables such as onions, carrots, spinach and flageolet beans.

"It is difficult to find diversification that is working," he acknowledges, "because it requires expensive investment and there are difficulties in getting marketing expertise."

However, he had plenty of irrigation equipment and water available – this year only irrigated cereals are yielding well in the area – for the shift into field veg.

About 40 local growers have also banded together to build a packhouse to service supermarket and canning contracts, and a ventilated store to keep field veg through to the following April/May.

"In this region, vegetable production will continue to rise – particularly for quality products; we must follow and adapt to the markets because we see public funds for farm support being reduced in future," says Mr Decorte.

"The consumer wants quality and it is easier to produce that quality on bigger units in completely new vegetable areas like this. We are also able to provide the necessary traceability on produce and stick to a positive list of agrochemical products."

A second veg co-op member, Xavier Mardelet, who farms 196ha (485 acres) nearby, also has a traceability system in place for his durum wheat as well as vegetables.

He believes French cereal growers will respond likewise for other cereals as soon as customers start to call for quality assured crops. A system for sugar beet is being prepared already.

Like Mr Decorte, he is anxious about the future – although it hasnt stopped him enrolling in the French equivalent of the LEAF environmental farming organisation – and is seeking new ways of maximising farm income.

Most French farmers will not want to see the price of their wheat go below FF80 per quintal (about £80/t), he suggests.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

Confused about whos who in the seed breeding business? We guide you through the mergers and buy-outs of the past few years.

BARQUITO, a boat-shaped bread designed to hold fillings without going soggy, is being heralded as a break through in snack foods.

It also represents the wide-reaching changes that have taken place within the plant breeding world over the past decade and its continuing globalisation.

Which helps to explain why so many names that farmers have long been familiar with, have changed and changed again in a series of mergers, buy-outs, buy-backs, takeovers, rationalisations and down sizings.

For the barquito is not being introduced by one of the multinational catering groups; it comes to you courtesy of Nickerson Technologies at Rothwell where, alongside Buster, Rifle, Linola and Merkur they are selling French bread.

Bread, shipped across the Channel from the bakeries of Nickersons parent company, the farmers co-operative Groupe Limagrain, is just one of the foods which marketing development manager David Pearson is handling in a trade which has grown to a turnover of £2m within the last 12 months. One day he will be in the field debating with a group of farming customers about the characteristics of a cereal variety, the next he might be talking to supermarket chains or food manufacturers.

Rothwell is now part of a world-wide operation which encompasses food production from the breeding of original seed, right through to the consumers plate. It is the plate on which the plant breeder must now keep his eye.

One hundred and fifty miles south, at Cambridge, the research and development arm of PBI (Plant Breeding International) is working on palm oil and tea as part of its role as a main player in the Plantation and Plant Science Group of Unilever – its parent company.

Both plant breeding companies have been acquired by owners who want the ability to breed crop varieties designed specifically for a particular use.

Across the Atlantic Monsanto has been busily acquiring a clutch of seed businesses in the United States and Brazil while back here in the UK, S and G Seeds, New Farm Crops, N K Seeds and Hilleshog (United Kingdom) Ltd are now owned by Novartis, a vast pharmaceutical company formed by the merger of Ciba-Geigy and Sandoz. The merger also resulted in Novartis becoming the second largest seeds company in the world after Pioneer.

Scientific techniques

And the aim of both Monsanto and Novartis? To apply biological science techniques across a wide spectrum – agriculture, food and human health with plant breeding playing a material part in all three.

"Altering the starch content of a crop to make it more palatable and easier to digest, for instance," explains Richard Powell of Novartis Seeds Ltd (formerly Hilleshog). "Producing plant vehicles for drugs is another."

"You see, seeds have no political boundaries," says Chris Green, managing director of Semundo, which became wholly owned by the Swedish farmers co-op Svalof Weibull AB four years ago.

"All the large combines that are being formed, are placing their breeding stations for different crops in the appropriate geographic locations – as well as Sweden and Britain, for instance, Svalof is in Canada, Argentina and Spain. We are going to see the smaller companies making strategic alliances. "

New Farm Crops oversees cereals breeding for the Novartis group, from the British base. "We have breeding stations in France and Germany which major on spring and winter barley." explains managing director Stephen Smith.

Seven years ago Nickerson was bought to add cereal breeding to the portfolio of Groupe Limagrain which until then had concentrated on vegetables, flowers, agricultural and amenity grasses and hybrid crops, especially maize.

Under the name Nickerson Holdings there are three other breeding stations in France, Germany and Spain.

For Unilever, PBI Cambridge is one of the three breeding stations fitted to the northern European climate. The others are at Chartres in France and Magdeburg in Germany.

Breeding centres

Norfolk and Lincolnshire were destined to become the cereal breeding centres when the Zeneca pharmaceutical and agrochemical group, and COSUN, the Dutch sugar co-operative, brought together their seed interests. This is now Advanta BV, a company which operates across Europe, north and south America, Australia and Asia.

"Sunflowers are bred in the United States and southern Europe, maize in the United States, sugar beet in Belgium and Holland, oilseed rape in France," explains Dr Thomas Joliffe who heads the British breeding programme.

"Crossing can take place anywhere, but of the crops suitable for particular climate and conditions, the varieties are selected and trialled as close to home as possible.

"For instance, the sugar beet crosses are made at our stations in Rilland in Holland and Tienen in Belgium, but are brought here for further development.

"When it comes to biotechnology, though, there will be centres of excellence staffed by a team of scientists who will carry out all the work."

The particular merger which resulted in the formation of Advanta Holdings (UK) Ltd, as the parent group for the British companies this year, has a history almost as complex as a new cereal variety.

Bioscience potential

In 1987 ICI, seeing the potential for bioscience, moved into plant breeding with the purchase of Miln Marsters and Sinclair McGill to create ICI Seeds (UK) Ltd.

The name changed to Zeneca Seeds (UK) Ltd when ICI divided its pharmaceutical and agricultural interests.

Meanwhile over at Sleaford, Charles Sharpe and Co plc had been bought by Booker plc owner of Hurst Gunson Cooper Taber Ltd., which then merged the two companies to form Booker Seeds Ltd in 1987.

In 1991 Booker sold to Abbeygrand Ltd., the UK holding company set up by the Royal Vanderhave Group, and Sharpes International Seeds Ltd emerged. Abbeygrand then acquired the name and certain assets of Sinclair McGill (from ICI Seeds) and set up Sinclair McGill Seed Ltd. In the same year it took control of the Mommersteeg Seed Company Ltd.

This year the lot came together under the Advanta label – but the individual companies retained their names and identities.

By comparison the formation of CBP Twyford has been a very simple procedure. Two years ago Cambridge Plant Breeders (owned by the Agricultural Genetics Company Ltd) merged with Twyford Seeds (owned by Bibby and Son plc).

The business was then bought by a European consortium of plant breeding specialists, Lochow-Petkus (part of the German KWS group) and the French organisation SIGMA in association with NPZ-Lembke.

Lochow-Petkus, which has plant breeding stations throughout Europe, wanted to establish a UK based cereals breeding programme.

But not all companies are for sale. Despite the blandishments of many suitors, Elsoms Seeds at Spalding remains as independent as it was when it was formed153 years ago.

Members of the family of John Keeling, who became a partner with the Elsom brothers in 1942 and who was chairman for almost three decades, are still involved as executive directors of Elsoms (Spalding) Ltd., the holding company.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

It is always interesting to find out how a new owner changes a farm business. Never more so than when it is a large Lincs estate.

WHEN Paul and Anne Clarke bought the 2,800ha (7,000 acre) Nocton Estate in Lincolnshire they hadnt set a foot on the place.

Eighteen months on, with a new set of air-conditioned offices, a new 6,000 sq ft house nearing completion, two and half miles of concrete road, new administration staff and radical changes to the way the estate is managed, their individual footprint is all too clear.

The Nocton logo, a wheat ear, greets visitors at all the estate entrances. Its there again on the sweaters Paul Clarke and his staff are wearing. It embellishes the spare wheel cover on the 4X4, the side of a tanker and the farm tackle.

What imprint then is being made on the farmland itself? Some changes are being made to the cropping, but it is the marketing that will have the most radical overhaul.

Which is exactly what Mr Clarke did with Winchester Bulb Growers the company he and his wife Anne took from a turnover of just £2,000 to £13m "by aggressive selling". Along the way he bought Tomlins Brothers, part of the Geest empire in Cornwall, built up the familys original 560 acres to 3,000 and acquired most of the foundation bulb stock from the Rosewarne experimental station.

Beet contract

Lying in an oblong block, Nocton Estate runs from limestone heath on the west to 1,215ha (3,000 acres) of fen on the east and encompasses high alluvial peat, stiff skirt, black sand, and clay. "Not easy," acknowledges the new farm manager, Martin Reams, "but I prefer this diversity, you just have to vary your cropping and manage it right."

The estate has a large irrigation system; 190m gallons piped to every field from the River Witham on the eastern boundary where the Bardney sugar beet factory so conveniently lies.

Buying as a company purchase, Mr Clarke has kept the entire sugar beet contract at 20,700t it is thought to be the third largest in the country. This is one crop that the farm manager hopes to lift current 45t/ha (18t/acre) yields on. "We are adopting the FAR herbicide regime, and may go to tramlining in order to improve weed control – and reduce our total input bill."

He has inherited the first seasons cropping – wheat, sugar beet, peas, potatoes, barley, winter carrots and linseed. As well, 850 breeding ewes are run on 139ha (343 acres) of permanent pasture.

The system has been retained apart from the carrots – 30ha (75acres). The first season they were grown on contract for another grower who this year undertook the work himself for the last time.

"No problem with carrots – its the straw. Theres so much you just cant get rid of it. All you can put in afterwards is linseed, and it doesnt thrive. Just look at that field," says Mr Reams with regret.

The second major change is with the peas and potato marketing, inevitable with Mr Clarkes experience of direct selling bulbs and cut flowers to retailers. He is founder member of two new grower groups. In ASA Peas (As Soon As Possible) he partners Deeping Pea Growers, W Dennis and Sons and Parker Dean Produce. The latter growing for JSR.

Between them they are growing 1,497ha (3,700 acres) of 150-minute peas; "You either grow ASA or bullets and theres no money in the bullets."

He is growing in all 543ha (1,340 acres) of vining peas, 126ha (311acres ) on the cropping licence.

He was instrumental in the formation of the Spearhead Potato Association with four other growers, Greens of Soham, British Field Products, the North Norfolk Potato Group and C E P Potatoes. Administrative manager David Longmate, one of the original Nocton staff, was seconded to help set up the group. Crisping and chipping varieties will therefore dominate the potato acreage – Lady Rosetta, Hermes and Morene.

With land across Lincs, Norfolk, and Cambs/Suffolk, the Association will be supplying 75,000t starting with the lifting on the early sands in Suffolk, 54,000t will be from stores. Eelworm, however, is a major problem: "We hope to use GPS to identify hotspots – and extend the rotation to perhaps one in 14 years," explains Mr Reams.

Value-added

The other agronomic problems are wheat bulb fly, manganese deficiency and severe infestations of wild oats. So, a wild oat eradication programme has been introduced, overseen by the companys agronomists from Aubourn Farming. Hand-roguing has produced some extremely clean crops this year.

Mr Reams is hoping a new seed dressing (tefluthrin), which is awaiting approval, will control wheat bulb fly. Until that is available he will apply insecticide in January followed by egg hatch sprays.

The first wheat area is staying at its current level with current split of feed and milling varieties. "On some later sowings following beet, we will be going for value-added wheats, such as Charger," adds Mr Reams.

Standing power is important and the varieties currently being grown – Brigadier, Ritmo, Vivant and Hereward appear to have stood the rain well. Wheat averages 8.5t/ha "Given the range of soils, that is reasonable and I wouldnt expect to be able to improve on that across the whole farm", says Mr Reams.

Spring barley, however, has been introduced into the rotation following sugar beet on heath land. "Last harvest it was wheat, but we have gone for the malting barley variety Optic, which seems to be looking good," he says.

This year 2.2ha (5.5acres) of daffodils are being grown – to retain some of Mr Clarkes foundation stock. But this is likely to expand at the expense of second wheats "I shall be looking for another business interests and almost certainly I shall grow daffodils."

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

The drought of 76 prompted one Norfolk grower to go in search of water. Spring subsoiling was, and is still, the answer. Edward Long investigates.

BETTER yields and improved crop reliability are the benefits of subsoiling for Norfolk sugar beet grower, Paul Childerhouse.

Theres no irrigation at Brick Kiln Farm, Weeting, near Brandon so subsoiling is one route to tapping into water reserves held in underlying chalk.

Since roots have been able to penetrate into the sponge-like rock the performance of sugar beet, on blow-away sand at DJ Childerhouse & Sons 188ha (470 acre) farm, has greatly improved.

Before subsoiling the average beet yield was no more than 30t/ha (12t/acre) of roots – and during the 1976 drought the wilted crop gave just 20t/ha (8t/acre).

"Now I average over 20t/acre," says Mr Childerhouse. "Some of the extra is due to better varieties, use of Temik (aldicarb) to control docking disorder and better seedbeds – but about half of it is due to subsoiling."

The severe drought 21 years ago triggered the search for water.

It was found when holes were dug down to 90cm (3ft). Although barley had dried out and was dead on the surface the underlying chalk was moist.

Mr Childerhouse realised he had stumbled upon the answer to his water needs – by subsoiling into the chalk, beet roots could reach water.

The top of the chalk under the farm varies in depth, in most places it is about 50cm (20 inches) down, but elsewhere it is either at the surface or beyond reach of farm equipment.

Initially subsoiling was done with a single leg subsoiler working at 150cm (5ft) centres behind the farms 80hp tractor in the autumn.

"This was our biggest tractor, yet it was not sufficiently powerful to cope with rock-hard chalk. The subsoiler could only penetrate to 14 inches and when the leg hit the white stuff, the tractor was pulled 90í to the line of work.

Tyres stripped

"It did little good, a lot of metal was eaten and tyres stripped. The job was nearly abandoned as an expensive waste of time. We borrowed a big crawler, but it was not strong enough to cope with sufficiently deep subsoiling to make the job worthwhile."

Then a lucky delay showed how it could work. Because of work pressure in the autumn of 1980 subsoiling was not possible. But after a few days of good weather in February Mr Childerhouse decided to return to subsoiling beet land.

It proved to be far easier and quicker; the chalk was softer and the tines worked deeper. There was also less wear and tear on the tractor.

"It seemed to be the best time. After autumn subsoiling we spread pig muck and a big fertiliser spreader ran on the land. It made sense to do the job in the spring.

"Unlike clay, a subsoiler does not shatter chalk, it just gouges out a groove which soon closes up to form an impenetrable barrier. So the later it is done the better."

The benefits were obvious in beet and the following spring barley with lines of green crop seen along the subsoiled track.

"When we harvested beet after the first year of spring subsoiling we were amazed. Roots, instead of being short and fangy, were long, and perfectly shaped with no sign of fanginess. We harvested a sugar adjusted root yield of over 20t/acre – easily the highest we have ever achieved."

The next job was to close up the spacings still further. Now a 2-legged model on a 100hp tractor runs so that one leg works in the wheeling from the previous pass to give a spacing of 60cm (24 inches).

As straight legs created a deadweight which needed a lot of power, a radical redesign of the subsoiler was undertaken five years ago.

"I chopped off the straight legs and after modifying the frame I replaced them with the curved and more pointed ones from a Dutch machine. These work better with a power requirement of about 50hp/tine when working to 2ft."

Now the beet land is left unworked until the spring.

Stubble from the previous cereal is sprayed with glyphosate in September. In January fertiliser is spread to give 50kg/ha (40 units/acre) of phosphate, 150kg (120 units) each of potash and sodium, and 30kg (24kg) of magnesium.

Good dressing

Shortly afterwards a good dressing of pig manure is applied. The subsoiler moves in during late February, about three weeks before drilling, and works at a depth of 50cm (20 inches).

This is done at right angles to the drill line to make the job easier. Then the land is ploughed to 30cm (12 inches) and pressed.

Subsoiling not only breaks the chalk but also smashes unstructured sand to provide better rooting conditions.

Subsoiling is done every three years in land earmarked for beet. The plough press helps reduce the risk of another serious threat to sugar beet profits – soil blowing. The sandy land is highly prone to blowing in a dry time and the crop is particularly vulnerable.

"We suffered more blows last spring than for 25 years. The sand-blasting effect cut off 40 acres of beet when plants had four leaves. Most of it was taken down to the ground and six acres had to be re-drilled, where the green heart remained the crop was left to recover.

"There are many ways to stop blowing, the cheapest is to plough late. This, and subsoiling with a curved leg in the spring, normally brings moist soil to form a cap on the surface.

"No subsequent cultivations are needed as the front press wheel on the drill is sufficient to create a seedbed for beet on this land. The rest of the soil retains the cap so its less vulnerable to wind. But this year was so dry, we had just 28mm of rain in February and only 18 in March so there was no moisture available to make the cap."

Spring subsoiling works well on the Norfolk farm allowing roots to exploit the chalk, which is always damp. During this seasons early drought Mr Childerhouse was pleased a way had been discovered to tap into it.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

BEFORE they rush from their taxis into the British Potato Councils offices in Cowley, perhaps some of the new council members would care to stroll up to the local shopping centre and its market stalls.

Heaven forbid, they might even dig deep in their pockets for the 90p-£1 required in one of the local chip shops. What will they find? Probably some of the rather second rate spuds which are disillusioning the great bulk of the population.

Cowley, you see, is not the most salubrious or wealthy of Oxfords suburbs. Not far away is the notorious Blackbird Leys housing estate. You dont find many Sainsbury customers round there. So theres a fair chance they still know how to peel their own potatoes.

Yet what is to be found on the market stalls and local grocers in a year when potato prices have plunged as low as can be? Poor quality, badly stored and often tasteless examples – left behind after the multiples have creamed away the best.

In fact, the best potatoes to be found in Cowley, are probably those highly priced fries in the new Burger King on the site of a now demolished car factory.

And, who is being targeted by the BPC in its first campaign (albeit inherited from the old PMB)? Its the middle class readers of the traditional womens press.

But what about their children? There is a generation now which is in danger of perceiving potatoes only as fries. A generation that is even more susceptible to the trendier claims made for pasta and rice. New thinking at BPC is needed to address this most important market sector.

Lets not mince words. Many potato growers are struggling despite responding with new varieties, new technology and techniques. They see the added-value profits which are made on their produce nearer to the consumer and they want greater returns too.

For most of them, however, it can only come from healthy prices for a product in demand. That means a worthwhile price for good quality ware on the shelves because this is what sets the baseline for the processing market.

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Archive Article: 1997/08/02

2 August 1997

CWS Agricultures Essex Farm Estate has already taken delivery of the first Case IH Steiger Quadtrac which, says farm manager David Watson, impressed him with its low ground pressure and traction. It is a logical purchase,

he says, given that wheeled articulated tractors already feature in the tractor fleet there.

"The Quadtracs combination of low ground pressure and traction is principally what attracted us to the machine," he comments. Here the tractor is being put through its paces with an 8m Simba Top Tilth II cultivator and disc harrow-ring press combination. The Quadtrac is powered by a 14-litres, six-cylinder Cummins engine,

coupled to a 12 speed powershift transmission. All-up weight of the tractor is 19.8 tonnes.

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