Archive Article: 1997/09/20 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Velox

Its rare to find a first early suitable for French fry production, but heres one. Its use might be similar to Premiere. Long tuber shape. But its early days; its only been in trial for one year. A Solana variety from Germany, its been entered direct.

Cosmos

A pre-packer and early baker with real potential and good blight resistance. The nearest thing to Estima for some while, but no better. It may be a little earlier, so it might achieve a higher baker content. Very attractive and a good growers variety.

Spey

Long oval parti-coloured tubers. Provisionally recommended for general use, although developed initially with McCains in mind. Good fry colour and long dormancy which is a real advantage if theyre going to be stored. Overall disease characteristics are good – high resistance to blackleg, resistant to PCN (Ro1) and some resistance to pallida. Susceptibility to virus Y can be countered with good seed management.

Claret

Might fill the gap in the market for reds. Some supermarkets wont stock Romano any more, and Desiree needs to be grown on kind soils. Some really good attributes – moderate dry matter and good frying and boiling characteristics. But Id worry about internal defects and lack of nematode resistance. For pre-packing tuber uniformity is better than Desiree, though not ideal.

Hermes

One of the varieties eating into the crisping sector. It produces a very good fry colour but agronomically, too, its superb, with some excellent disease characteristics. But it does need a little extra care over seed numbers. Some growers who left Hermes to mature in an effort to boost dry matter have ended up with some oversize tubers.

Charlotte

Making a two pronged attack – on the high value punnet value and for early season fresh ware. Itll soon creep into the varietal top 20. Personally I believe it has the taste and flavour to fulfil what the end user wants. Its a free variety which is good from the growers point of view – there are no marketing restrictions, other than in seed supply. NIAB is looking at ways of sponsoring varieties such as this through Independent Variety Trials, so that they have a chance of making it onto the Recommended List.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

TWO west Lancashire growers have used an unconventional approach to blight this season – copper chelate.

Once, copper was the only fungicide available to growers – and it still is for organic growers. Now it may be returning as a tin replacement in blight spray programmes and as a desiccant.

Blight was so bad in one 2ha (5.4 acres), crop of Saxon at Ambrose Farm, Halsall, near Ormskirk, that John Pilkington could not wait for the contractor to spray off with diquat (Reglone).

Instead, his crop consultant Bill Scarisbrick – who is also an independent distributor for Stoller – suggested Key Feeds copper chelate where it is being used in the States very successfully to kill off potato haulms. Stoller recommended application at 10 litres/ha.

The results have astounded Mr Scarisbrick. Within three days the blight was stopped in its tracks and the tops wilting, he explains. It cost Mr Pilkington just £25/ha (£10/acre) – a 60% saving on contractor-sprayed acid.

At Hill Farm, Little Crosby, near Liverpool, 8ha (19 acres)of Maris Piper received the same treatment. The tops remained green after the first application, so a further 10 litres/ha were applied.

The result? No sign of blight, and 95% of the tops dying. However, a small area remained too green for Mr Scarisbricks liking, so a touch of diquat (Reglone) was applied.

"As an expedient and comparatively inexpensive way of controlling blight and desiccating the tops the copper chelate seems extremely effective," he says. He plans to introduce more of his customers to it next year.

Furthermore, he has been using copper sulphate to replace tin-based products for blight control. "It wasnt as cheap as we would have liked because the product had to be flown in the from the States," he adds.

But, at £20/ha (£8.25/acre) it was, he believes, cost-effective. Next year he plans to cut rates by a half – and apply it a week or so earlier to keep on top of the blight.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

The Vario Pack 1800MC

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

1 THERE is lots of stem canker spores around but what happens next depends on how much rain we get in September.

The potential is there for stem canker to be the No1 disease in English crops. Given high humidity and rainfall, those spores will be flying into crops.

Within a matter of five to seven days, the spores will produce leaf spotting. The infection grows rapidly down the leaf stem to the main stem at 5mm a day and could be down in the main stem in 10 days.

Therefore there is very little time between spores causing leaf spotting and the infection reaching the stem. Once the spots are there a few days, the fungus is probably already in the stem and it is too late to spray.

There is a clear link between the leaf spots and the stem canker you see six months later. Yield loss is caused by the premature ripening from the stem lesions. UK growers lose around £40m from stem canker each year despite spraying. Similar losses from light leaf spot add up to 1t/ha falling victim to these diseases.

Canker spores are normally released from late September through to March – May in 1997 – so fungicide protection should be maintained every six to eight weeks.

Get the dose rate right and Punch C or Plover are rather more flexible for canker control than other products in an ADAS Boxworth trial as long as leaf spots hadnt been there too long.

In a 1996 timing trial with Punch C, we sprayed in October and got a 1t/ha yield response but waiting another four weeks for the first spray reduced that by half – worth £20/ha.

Dr Peter Gladders,

Plant pathologist,

ADAS Boxworth, Cambs.

2 THE leaf spotting symptoms may not always be visible but the fungus is there. For early warning of infection, growers can take leaf samples and put them inside a plastic bag. Place them in an airing cupboard or on a window sill where the temperature will bring out signs of any hidden infection.

Cheap and cheerful is often the attitude of some growers and advisers to choosing fungicides. In some instances, in certain crops that will be the case but not for oilseed rape in this situation.

David Ellerton,

Procam Group, Herts.

3THERE is some good resistance to stem canker creeping into the new rape varieties such as Licrown. Contact is dropping back to a seven rating after this season, and Express stays rated at seven.

There are differences in the response from varieties to fungicide applications which reflect their inbuilt resistance to diseases such as canker, light leaf spot and downy mildew. It shows up particularly in the north where Lipton and Lightning gave the lowest response in trials. These are the varieties with the highest resistance to light leaf spot.

Growers should assess the risk of disease in the varieties they have drilled. Varieties susceptible to stem canker will benefit most from earlier spraying in high risk situations. However, several varieties have good resistance to light leaf spot but few have even moderate resistance to stem canker.

Trials carried out by NIAB for DuPont showed that spraying Punch C in October with a February follow-up gave much better yields than delaying the first spray until December. Express, Synergy and the very canker-susceptible Nickel were used in the trial. Early spraying is absolutely critical for a susceptible variety.

Dr Jane Thomas, Plant pathologist, NIAB, Cambridge.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

N ow the combines have gone through our fungicide trials, at least in the south. How has the new chemistry stood up to the test of a massive late disease invasion? We monitor the results from around the regions.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

MARKETING your own grain? Dont be overwhelmed by the mass of information on grain price fluctuations, Chicago futures, Ukrainian frosts, Chinese beer consumption, and European crop quality.

Getting hold of easily understood information quickly is important to both growers and traders of cereals and oilseeds. Given the volatility of markets these days, quicker is better.

While there are many factors outside the control of growers, they need increasingly to gather a wide range of data and background to help them reach informed marketing decisions.

Those who have recently chosen to hand over their grain marketing function to a pool or managed fund still need access to information which will help them make this decision and, in some cases, at what point to accept the daily price offered by their fund.

Others who want to market their grain themselves seek independent sources against which to balance what traders are telling them.

Agrimonetary issues, Agenda 2000, area payment rates and the next world trade agreement are just a few factors which will have important implications for markets in future and for profitability on arable farms.

But when and how will they impinge on your decision to buy or hold on to grain? Entrants in this years Crops Grain Marketing Challenge are gaining extra insight into just this.

Each contestant gets a regular bulletin produced by the Home-Grown Cereals Authoritys market information department for which these immediate and longer term influences on grain markets are meat and drink.

Direct information

There may once have been a perception that HGCA information is directed at the trade and perhaps somewhat too sophisticated for the grower – even though his levy payments underpin the HGCA structure.

However, new services are directly aimed at the grower, including a shorter version of the Weekly Bulletin, the mainstay of the HGCAs publications.

The Bulletin includes weekly spot and forward grain prices, volumes traded, trade statistics, feed ingredient prices, EU grain prices, intervention activity, area payment rates, EU export awards, agrimoney details and market comment on many of these areas.

The shorter four page version aimed at growers will include prices, agrimoney and market comment, says senior economist Heike Hintze.

While the postal service of the Bulletins and many other paper publications from the market information department will continue, recent months have seen expansion of on-line services to give more up-to-date information.

Daily price reports through the HGCA fax-on-demand service are updated twice daily to give midday and evening closing prices for London futures, plus market comment and agrimonetary information such as green rate changes.

More of the 30,000 or so telephone calls to the market information department every year now come from growers since the HGCA increased its presence at farming events in recent years and forged new links with growers.

Trade queries still dominate, but Ms Hintze stresses that the seven economists and three statisticians are all available to explain to growers the changes in the market and what may be in store.

"Of course, what they all want to know is what will the price be. We cant tell them that but we can talk to them about what the influences are on the market," says Ms Hintze.

The HGCAs internet service is currently free, giving daily cereal and oilseed prices, agrimoney updates, the latest trade statistics and reports on other areas such as planting surveys. Much of this information also goes to the Farming Online service.

Those growers with CEEFAX on their televisions can obtain daily ex-farm spot prices through this source, and a free answerphone service also gives the daily ex-farm spot prices, futures prices and agrimoney information.

While the HGCA has a statutory role for the collection of prices and volumes traded through merchants and co-ops, known as the Corn Returns, it also conducts a wide range of surveys and special reports giving more in depth information on markets.

Its planting survey appears before official MAFF figures and is respected by the trade for its accuracy. Road haulage is surveyed annually for prices and distances, while there is also a daily price telephone survey around the regions.

The progress of grain quality through the harvest is updated several times each season in the authoritys quality survey.

Comments on the improvement or worsening of malting barley nitrogen levels, for example, might help a grower decide on harvest, storage or selling strategies.

Detailed areas

The Weekly Digest looks at two or three areas in more detail than is available in the bulletin. Recent subjects included the use of options for price protection of grain, including worked examples of possible grower marketing strategies.

Price reporting of oilseeds was brought within the remit of the market information department in July 1995. A monthly oilseeds review looks at prices and factors affecting the market.

Areas relevant to growers in the last issue included reports on Agenda 2000 and its implications for the UK oilseed sector, world oilseed production estimates and price developments.

As well as the implications for prices, HGCA economists increasingly take the figures for both cereals and oilseeds further to look at the potential effect of policy changes on margins per hectare on the farm, providing growers with figures on which to make planting or marketing decisions.

With the move towards trade at world grain prices, the influences around the globe on grain prices and those of competing commodities become increasingly relevant to UK growers.

The collection of UK, EU and world data by the HGCAs market information department, and its subsequent analysis, distils a vast amount of information into an accessible form.

The emphasis in future will continue to be to present that information in a format that will be useful to growers as well as to the trade, says Ms Hintze.

The grain trade is well tuned into the HGCAs market monitoring, but few growers exploit the organisations independent advice. Suzie Horne looks at whats available.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

&#8226 Leave set-aside untouched as long as possible, to reduce egg-laying. When cultivating, leave a fine seedbed.

&#8226 Early drilling, where feasible. Well established crops can survive attacks better in the spring.

&#8226 Use a high tillering variety, and a higher seed rate to increase shoot numbers. Early nitrogen can help plants tiller and grow away from the problem.

&#8226 Avoid deep drilling – this increases the size of the target. Rolling reduces the ability of larvae to move between plants.

&#8226 Monitor risk by having a soil sample checked for egg count. Mr Purslow is not convinced of the benefits of soil sampling, because attack is related to weather and crop conditions in the spring.

&#8226 Insecticidal seed treatment (fonofos, chlorfenvinphos) is effective on late sown crops. On early sowings it may run out of steam too soon. As yet there is no seed treatment approved against wheat bulb fly for spring barley, but tefluthrin (familiar as Force on sugar beet) is in the registration pipeline.

&#8226 Egg hatch sprays. Egg hatch usually peaks during early February, but it depends on temperature – so timing is critical. Options are: chlorpyrifos (Dursban, Spannit) and chlorfenvinphos (Birlane, Sapecron). There is a tank-mix recommendation for chlorpyrifos plus dimethoate as a two- pronged attack during late egg hatch – but this approach may compromise the best timing for both products. Beware: low temperatures, organic soils and high pH may limit effectiveness, says Mr Purslow.

&#8226 One option for spring barley might be using chlorpyrifos (Dursban), at the egg hatch rate at drilling, and incorporate into the soil. Spring barley appears included under the general recommendation for this product.

&#8226 For "deadheart" sprays later in the season, dimethoate is an option. A "deadheart" spray is less effective when larvae are in their final stages. Absorption can be improved by using LI700.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

It may pay to put a little extra seed in the drill. Gilly Johnson reports.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

It is the beginning of the new season and times are hard. A new low-cost approach is needed so what better way to start the new year than to halve the cost of my rape seed. I resolve, for the first time, to save my own.

I didnt anticipate much difficulty with this. After all, the NFU had sorted it out for all of us when they agreed that we growers would pay millions of pounds to the seed breeders in the form of royalty payments on home-saved seed. In the case of rape there is a breeders royalty of £1.18/kg which, bearing in mind rape is only worth about 15p/kg to sell off the farm, I thought it was a pretty generous settlement on our, the growers part.

I rang up a firm to organise the home-dressing of my 250kg of seed. Have you had it tested for glucosinolate levels? they asked. It has to be tested and give a result showing glucosinolate at a level of less than 18 micromoles/g of seed before it can be used as home-saved seed. Oh, Ill send you a sample I said trying to sound as if I knew what they were talking about. Sorry they said, but I doubt whether you are qualified. You need a certificate of competence to take a sample of seed.

Apparently you have to stick something called a sampling spear into something called the bulk and collect these samples in something called a bag and then do something technical called label it. Of course, when the full complexity of this procedure was pointed out I realised that I was hopelessly ill-qualified.

A week later my sample was duly taken by a qualified sampler whom I must say sampled with extraordinary skill (cost £28.30 to include £1 of sample bag). He then asked me for evidence that this seed was derived from certified seed I had bought the year before. If not, and MAFF subsequently carried out an inspection, I risked losing my area aid. After rooting around in my office I managed to find the batch number. My sample was then posted off (£2.50) to the testing laboratory to undergo the XRF method (18.50) to see if it registered less than 18 micromoles of glucosinolate per gramme of seed. It failed with a tantalising result of 19.

At this point I considered chucking the whole thing in and ordering merchant certified seed instead. However, I was told by the home-saved seed firm that a merchant could sell me seed with glucosinolate levels up to 25 micromoles/g. In other words if my Apex had been grown on contract to a seed merchant it could be accepted up to 25 micromoles, but I would be prevented from using it myself if it was more than 17.9.

Thus a merchant could charge a contract grower £6,000/t for the same rape seed that he could retain for his own use because it was not up to the standard for home-saved seed.

So riled was I by this injustice that I threw caution to the wind and submitted my sample for the more accurate but expensive HPLC test (£41.80) to see if I got a better result. Another week passed and, joy of joys, the result was 14. A full 3.9 within limit.

The seed is now sown. I estimate I saved over £700 by avoiding the clutches of the seed merchants. A hard won £700, but when the odds seem stacked unfairly against the farmer the principle is important as the money.

Not that Im dismissing the importance of the money. If the economics pundits are to be believed £700 might be about the measure of my profit this year.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

HOW do you grow a profitable wheat crop, using less than two full rate sprays, from seed to harvest?

Danish grower Mogens Worre-Jensen has been forced to find out. His pesticides are strictly rationed by the Government, under a green agricultural regime which aims to halve national pesticide usage.

At first, Mr Worre-Jensen was worried – as were all Danish arable producers. But despite the restrictions, he has managed to keep gross margins healthy, thanks to disease resistant varieties, and well-timed low dose sprays.

"We have learnt how to live with the pesticide limits," he explains. His solution on the 1,200ha (3,000 acres) of productive light clay loam at Vallo, Koge, just south of Copenhagen, includes British wheat variety Lynx.

This feed wheat failed to make the UK Recommended List in 1993, and so is not widely grown in Britain. Although it has excellent disease resistance, treated yields failed to match up to other UK wheats in Recommended List trials. Specific weight results were also lower than some other varieties.

But Lynxs major strength, its disease resistance, is valuable in Denmark, where sprays are limited. This is the second season that Mr Worre-Jensen has included Lynx in his wheat portfolio.

The variety has given good yields, but equally important, has routinely required only one fungicide spray, and that at a low rate. Last season it was a one-third rate Tilt Megaturbo (propiconazole with carbendazim), applied during early July. Rain in late June brought the risk of septoria.

The Lynx produced 9.6t/ha (3.9t/acre) following a vining pea crop. Variable costs were just £105/ha (£42/acre) – less than half the UK average figure for wheat.

This season the variety also needed just one fungicide spray – straight Tilt (propiconazole) at 0.2 litre/ha, at the end of June to protect the ears from septoria. An aphid spray was also necessary in mid July.

But the other more susceptible wheat varieties on the farm – Ritmo, Hussar and a small area of Reaper – have been sprayed three times with fungicides (all at low doses, 0.2 litres/ha). "This season has been relatively disease-free," says Mr Worre-Jensen. "Mildew and yellow rust have been low."

Growth regulator is included in the pesticide ration, and so Mr Worre-Jensen is keen to grow those varieties which can stand unaided. Lynx has good standing ability, but theres no doubt that the restriction on fertiliser reduces lodging risk.

Nitrogen limits are imposed on crops depending on soil type. The preceding crop is also taken into account. On Mr Worre-Jensens farm, Lynx following peas is allowed 135kg/ha (107 units N/acre), and 163kg/ha (130 units N/acre) following oilseed rape.

On the back of good yields and low input requirements, Lynx is the number two wheat in Denmark with about 17% market share. Ritmo is the market leader.

Lars Andersen of seed company DLF Trifolium markets Lynx in Denmark. "We need varieties which can stand up to a cold winter," he comments. "This season has been a real test, with cold temperatures and fierce winds from Finland and Russia. Lynx has held up well."

Danish wheats are drilled early – at the beginning of September -so that plants are well established before the winter cold bites.

Because most of the home-grown wheat in Denmark ends up as pig food, specific weight is not important. Grain prices are low (about £81-85/t ex-farm) for this harvest. Converted to the pound equivalent, this price appears higher than it really is, due to the effect of the strong pound on the sterling/krone exchange rate.

In reality, grain markets in Denmark have been low for some years – although Mr Worre-Jensen says they are better than he had been expecting. Unlike British growers last season, Danish producers did not benefit from exchange rate movements.

This harvest the first indications are that Lynx has not yielded as well as in previous years, and the varietys British breeder – John Blackman of CPB Twyford – suspects that nitrogen starvation is responsible.

Clues to the problem were visible this summer; some fields showed leaf yellowing and tipping. Danish growers tend to apply nitrogen early – just as they did when higher rates were allowed.

With limited nitrogen now available, late timings are more effective, suggests Mr Blackman. This is particularly true for late developing semi-dwarf varieties such as Lynx.

The Danish experience shows how varietal resistance becomes much more significant, if the rules change. Up to now, it has paid to go for yield in Britain, using high inputs. And so growers have failed to exploit the in-built disease resistance available in some UK varieties. But Danish growers want disease resistance – and British plant breeding can supply it. More British-bred wheats are on trial in Denmark.

British agricultural products are flying the flag overseas. In the first of a series focussing on our industrys success elsewhere, Gilly Johnson visits Denmark. Heres why a British-bred wheat is stealing a march.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

DR FINLAY Dale doesnt look much like a bookie. But, as one of three potato breeders at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) at Dundee, thats how he sometimes feels: "When you take two parents, the odds are 10,000 to one that youll find a cross with, say, the six disease characteristics that youre aiming for." It doesnt help that many of the desired attributes are polygenic – that is, determined by more than one gene.

Speaking at a variety day hosted by Nickerson Seeds, SCRIs commercial partner, Dr Dale describes how it can take up to 15 years to develop a new variety. But targeted breeding techniques at SCRI have managed to reduced this lag, and make the job more efficient, meaning there are fewer rejects to discard in the process.

Even so, breeders still feel a little at the mercy of the market. "I find the supermarkets domination of the fresh market slightly concerning. They have undoubted power, but remove themselves from market responsibility. So a variety can be on their list one year and dropped the next, yet there might be 10 years worth of seed in the pipeline."

Methods such as cell fusion, where an electric current is used to break down cell walls and fuse the cells together, will at least reduce the breeders response time yet further. The aim – to reduce the process of producing a new variety to one year is, admits Dr Dale, ambitious. But the technology already exists to speed things up.

For instance, resistance to leaf roll virus is available off the shelf. "If you want it, its there," he states. And theres good progress, too, towards potato mop top and tobacco rattle virus resistance and better pallida resistance.

The urge to reduce chemical inputs is shunting natural health up the list of priorities for new varieties and, meanwhile, will determine which of the existing ones will be grown, explains Dr Dale. "Potatoes are the heaviest users of agrochemicals and consumers are tuning in.

"The variety Stirling, for instance, rated 8 for foliage blight and 7 for tuber blight, has been identified by the Henry Doubleday Research Association as having a real benefit in reducing blight sprays. Instead of fortnightly applications, it may only need two or three sprays all season."

PCN resistance is one of Dr Dales special interests. "Up to 70-80% of yield can be lost to high infestations. The chemicals used to control nematodes are highly toxic and environmentally questionable at best." One solution is offered by the natural resistance found in certain wild relatives which breeders are attempting to harness.

Sprout suppressants are a particular area of consumer concern. "Theyre applied straight onto the product so theyre going to be first on the hit list. The good news is that weve identified the germplasm that will allow potatoes to be stored at 4íC without the associated problem of deteriorating fry colour," says Dr Dale.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Debris left after harvest is the main source of canker for the following crop.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Changes in the potato business are making variety choice more difficult. Tia Rund seeks advice to ease the decision.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

As costs come under further scrutiny is it time to consider refurbished machinery, asks Mike Bird?

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

AMONG the new introductions from John Deere is an 8000T Series range of rubber- tracked tractors, based on the corresponding wheeled models, with rated outputs of 185, 210, 230 and 260hp.

Targeted principally at the larger acreage arable farm with heavy soils, they are the first tractors in their power class to be offered with a choice of wheels or tracks.

With no wheels to support the over-hanging front of the tractor, the whole centre section has been beefed up to accommodate the track drive and idler assembly, and to cater for the redistributed loads along the length of the tractor.

To ensure good stability with mounted implements and help maintain the ideal weight distribution of 55% on the front idler and 45% on the rear drive wheel, the rear linkage mountings have also been moved forward so that equipment is transported and operated closer to the tractor.

New, stronger castings are used to carry the increased weight and greater forces at the rear.

Drive to the one-piece moulded rubber tracks is via a friction band around the circumference of the two rear drive wheels. A set of three mid rollers supports the centre of each track and the two front idler wheels are equipped with hydraulic track-tensioning cylinders which can be topped up from one of the tractors four external service outlets.

A conventional steering wheel is used to actuate electronically-controlled hydrostatic differential steering which provides forward or reverse rotation to the final drives.

The first movement of the steering wheel is the most sensitive, preventing over-reaction during precision work such as drilling.

Steering action is also proportional to ground speed – the faster one is driving, the slower the steering responds to the turning of the wheel, designed to make the tractor easier to control.

Centre to centre width of the standard 60cm (24in) wide tracks can be altered in 100mm (4in) increments between 1.72m and 2.23m (68in-88in) and the front idler incorporates a simple adjuster to maintain track alignment.

Mr Day says that all 8000T Series tractors come with appropriate front weights for the model, although extra ballast can be added at the front and between the drive and idler wheels to suit soil requirements and the implement being used.

The 8000T tractors will cost about £32,000 more than the equivalent wheeled models.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Adopted price

savings

Philip Wynn of Aubourn Farming is to be congratulated for highlighting the comparative safety net combinable crop growers have been enjoying in recent years (Crops w/e 16 August) and for pointing out measures that could be adopted to cope with lower grain prices and area payments.

However, as an employed practical farms manager, and director of a large agri-business, I would like to say that it is precisely the measures he advocates that myself and other like-minded, innovative managers put in place five or so years ago when lower prices and downward pressure on margins were first indicated.

These measures included reviewing crop rotations and inputs but, more importantly, machinery and labour strategies which reduce the capital and financial burden on the farm business, resulting in improved margins and profit potential for our employers.

In conclusion though, articles such as these are an excellent way of judging ourselves against others thinking and it is very pleasing to see that we must be on the right track, if not five years ahead of the game!

Alasdair Lowe,

Technical sales and farms director, K &#42 Cherry & Sons Ltd, Sutton Lodge Farm, Oxon.

Quality importance

I was interested to see your Price Watch initiative (Crops w/e 6 Sept). I am sure that it will give you some interesting information, however, I think that it is concentrating on a very small element of what the farmer believes to be important.

Many surveys have shown that as well as price, the farmer rates quality and quality of service extremely highly. Why not ask your readers to provide examples of the best (and possibly worst) level of service they have received from their supplier. This would give a much more complete picture of what is happening in the agricultural service area.

Richard Martin,

ICI Chemicals & Polymers, Wilton, Cleveland.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

IN the present market with a developing two-tier price structure, the challenge crops should fare reasonably well now quality and yield results are through.

Riband on the 162ha (400 acres) on Bill Turneys Weybridge Farm at Alconbury, Cambridgeshire, yielded 8t/ha (3.25t/acre) at 13.1% moisture. Protein averaged 11.1%, hagberg at 231, and specific weight at 77.1 kg/hl.

Rialto returned 7.8t/ha (3.15t/acre) from a similar acreage at 13% moisture, with 11.4% proteins, 260 HFN, and specific weight at 76kg/hl. Mr Turneys oilseed rape yielded 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre) from 162ha (400 acres).

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

New chemistry lives up to

the hype

THE agrochemical distributors are worried. This season their stores will be stacked high with fancy new pesticide packs. But will growers be persuaded to pay equally fancy prices?

Judging by the sorry state of the market, the distributors fear the answer is no. After all, the sensible reaction to the fall in grain prices must be to cut back. Growers will want to spend less, not more, on inputs this season.

So pressure is on the manufacturers to re-write the price tag on some of the new fungicide chemistry. That would please distributors and growers.

But this harvests trial results may take some of the heat off the debate. For once, some of the extravagant claims for these new products dont look quite as far out as the cynics might have predicted.

The argument hinges on the possibility of yield benefits over and above what is due to good disease control. This season the figures are indicating that the strobilurins in particular may be doing something rather more than just controlling infection.

Cereal yields are being turbo-charged. And its not just company trials that are coming up with this result – because they would say that, wouldnt they? More persuasively, data from independent research bodies such as the Arable Research Centres (ARC) agrees.

Even when the price plugged into the gross margin calculations is high, the new chemistry is proving well worthwhile. The ARCs figures show that you need about 0.26t/ha (2cwt/acre) extra grain in order to justify the £85/ha (£34/acre) or so for a strobilurin programme, as opposed to conventional top-class triazoles.

Somewhat surprisingly, the new chemistry has delivered the goods. Admittedly, the yield boost seems to be greater on some varieties than others, but over all the varieties its been worth the extra expense.

That said, excitement should be tempered – these are only one years results. But these new products look remarkably good. The only downside to this seasons data? Manufacturers may decide not to trim prices, after all. Perhaps we should keep quiet about it…

Where to

with wheat?

THANK goodness for a kind September. In the north and west, the combines have been working flat out in an effort to bring in the last of the wheat before the rain starts again.

Most growers will breathe a sigh of relief to have crops safely gathered in before the harvest festival season. But they may not be as happy about the quality of whats in the barn. Grain is small and shrivelled. Many samples will struggle to make the basic feed spec – never mind the more demanding specific weight standard required by the exporters.

It begs the question as to where our wheat will end up this year. The last time harvest quality was poor – in 1992 – the collapse of sterling solved the problem for us. At bargain basement prices, UK wheat was too good an offer to miss. Continental customers were queuing up, and our wheat was exported fast.

But we cant expect the exchange rate to save the day this time around. Its quite the reverse, with the pound stronger than it has been for many years.

Already the traders are talking about selling UK grain to France, for blending into wheat lots destined for intervention. That could be one answer – but inevitably price will rule. British wheat will need to trade at a big discount – perhaps £10/t or so – to French grain before the blending is worthwhile.

So price prospects are gloomy, at least for our feed wheats. However, anyone lucky enough to have a good sample in store should reap rewards, from tight supply and good demand.

All growers can do is attempt to anticipate the trends. They are doing just that. This autumn the area down to Class I and 2 wheats – those with milling potential – will be up. Estimates are that 25% of wheat seed sales have been to quality varieties. That might give the UK crop more export outlets for next year.

But that doesnt help us this season. Where is the 1997 harvest going to go – and at what price?

A salutary winters tale…

IT WAS the buzz crop of last autumn. More than 30,000ha (74,000 acres) of winter linseed were drilled. It promised to be an early maturing, easy-to-harvest break crop, which was also cheap to grow. And the area aid cheque is just as attractive as that attached to conventional linseed.

This season has shown – painfully – how it became a victim of its own success. Too much was expected, and too little was known about its agronomy. Many crops failed.

The weather wasnt kind – frost kill and heave put paid to much winter linseed south of the M4. Disease and weed problems added to the pressure on yield. Theres no doubt that many growers will fight shy of winter linseed this year.

However, we should remember that disaster makes news, and adequate crops will never make the headlines.

Some growers did find winter linseed a satisfactory break.

The real problem is that the marketing hype overtook the R&D. So growers were trying a crop without the agronomy background to help them. No matter how many trial sites are set up, a sound database takes time to put together. It cant be done in a hurry.

For the future, it may be that growers must have to accept a degree of risk regarding winter kill – at least with the varieties currently available. Perhaps UK conditions will only support the crop four years out of five? As yet, we dont know.

Winter linseed has had a rough ride this season. The seed trade is expecting the area to be down to about 20,000ha (50,000 acres) this autumn.

But perhaps expectations will also be lower – and with such a new crop, thats no bad thing. It goes to show the true value of practical, farm-based research. This crop really needs it.

Have your say on the HGCA

HAVE you a pen handy? Nows the chance to have an impact on the future role of the HGCA.

Every five years all non-departmental public bodies are routinely reviewed by the Government. The HGCAs turn has come around. So MAFF is asking for feedback from the trade, food processors and consumers, and rather rashly, from anyone else whos interested.

The review goes back to basics. For starters, it will ask the question as to whether or not the HGCA should be abolished. This would mean not having to pay the levy of 40p/t on grain, and 65p/t on oilseeds. Sounds radical – but in reality its highly unlikely that the HGCA would be scrapped. Its contribution to the industry is recognised.

But perhaps you would like more of a say in how the HGCAs budget – about £11m – is spent? You might want to see a greater emphasis on marketing matters. Or are there areas that the HGCA could be tackling – and isnt? Is it getting its messages over to you?

This is the time to have a say. All you have to do is write to MAFF in London, or the Scottish Office in Edinburgh. They wont guarantee to do anything differently – but the civil servants will at least take note. Make sure your response reaches them by Friday, 17 October.

Green lessons

WHILE the rest of Europe is still talking about cutting pesticide usage, Denmark took drastic action ten years ago.

Following consumer-driven legislation, growers there have had to commit themselves to using half the sprays they used to. Its meant painful readjustment, but Danish arable businesses have coped – so far (see page 8).

They have cut fungicide dose rates drastically, and weeds have been allowed to build up to levels that would frighten their British counterparts. So far, however, so good. Arable margins have come through battered, but not mortally wounded.

Cutting-edge technology has saved the day for Danish producers. They have had to learn to use other strategies for growing crops. But how would British growers manage if similar restrictions were now imposed?

Without doubt, not very well. In Britain, integrated crop management (ICM) is flirted with by many, but too often ignored.

Part of the problem is that many gaps remain in our knowledge of practical ICM strategies. Wheat bulb fly control is an example.

In this issue (see page 20) we report from a Norfolk farm where environmentally-friendly alternatives to repeat sprays of dimethoate are being sought.

Beetles are being encouraged, in line with the theory that they are predators of the wheat bulb fly larvae. But how many larvae could one beetle eat?

Would ploughing – burying the larvae – help, or would the damage to beetle populations outweigh the benefits?

Such questions are crucial, but no-one knows the answers. Its only too easy, and cheap, to spray instead. What a pity. And given the Danish experience, how long can we afford to stay in ignorance?

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

GROWERS and trade organisations have just over a month to comment on the HGCA for the Governments five-year review of the organisation.

The need for the HGCA is one of the options to be considered by MAFF when it decides on its future. Comments on the HGCA or any of its activities should be sent by 17 October to Miss NW Jones, Cereals & Set-Aside Division, Branch A, MAFF, Room 607, Whitehall Place (East Block), London SW1A 2HH.

MONSANTO is considering a UK consumer campaign to fend off concern and possible resistance to buying foods made from genetically-engineered plants. According to Marketing Week, the US company has appointed Bartle Bogle Hegarty to mastermind a campaign to counter recent critical press reports.

The companys own offices in High Wycombe were partly occupied this year by green campaigners lobbying against GM foods.

BREWER Carlsberg-Tetley has put its Herefordshire hop farm on the market for £1.8m. Brierley Court, near Leominster, grows 100ha (250 acres) of hops, as well as commercial poplars. It is being sold through Savills.

CWS Agriculture has held its hand up to being the largest UK recipient of arable aid payments at £2.02m. A further 17 payments made in the UK were for sums of more than £500,000.

FORMERLY absent agrochemical companies are signing up for next years Cereals 98 at Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

After a gap of several years, AgrEvo, Bayer and Monsanto have all booked demonstration plots on the site which now takes in more than 32ha (80 acres). Zeneca, BASF, Mandops, Stoller and Uniroyal are continuing their connection with the event.

SUGAR beet factories opened this week to cope with what early sampling suggests could be an above average crop.

All East Anglian factories, plus Newark and Bardney, opened on Thursday. Kidderminster and York open on 25 September and Allscott on 30 September. York is opening slightly later than the other factories because it is being recommissioned after an overhaul.

ENTRY forms for the 1997 National Malting Barley competition are available from the Institute of Brewing, 33 Clarges Street, London W1Y 8EE. The closing date for entries is 13 Oct.

FOLLOWING the August purchase of a 20% stake for Pioneer Hi-Bred International, DuPont is to pay $1.5bn for the soyabean processing unit of Ralston Purina, bringing its recent agchem acquisitions to $3.2bn.

The soyabean business, named Protein Technologies International is a world leader in the supply of soya proteins for food and paper processing. It will enable DuPont to process genetically engineered soyabeans for pharmaceutical use in a joint research venture set up with Pioneer.

SPECIFIC weights in wheat and barley are down on last year according to the HGCAs cereal quality survey. Based on 550 barley and 400 wheat samples, it shows nitrogens in barley are generally higher than last. In early cut samples of wheat hagbergs and protein content, are above those of last year. However, due to the onset of wet weather, poorer hagbergs and even lower specific weights are expected in the later cut crops.

MEMBERSHIP of the Royal Society of Birds has topped the million mark. It has more than doubled in the past 10 years making it the largest voluntary wildlife conservation organisation in Europe.

AMMUNITION against the use of viral genes in engineered crops has been fuelled, by the emergence of a hybrid virus which attacks cassava, according to the New Scientist. Two species of the virus that attack the plant have merged in to one virulent strain, destroying entire crops in Uganda.

SEVERAL oilseed rape varieties will be downgraded for their disease resistance on the 1998 NIAB Recommended List. Apex drops a point to seven for downy mildew, while Bristol is knocked back to one for light leaf spot, Arietta to eight, and Herald and Artus both to seven.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

A TWO-PRONGED approach to winter cereal weed control is adopted by DuPonts new Lexus Class herbicide for controlling blackgrass and a range of broad-leaved weeds.

Both translocated foliar and root activity is available from the combination of the new DuPont low-rate herbicide, flupyrsulfuron-methyl, and carfentrazone-ethyl from the FMC Corporation.

Contact action is particularly rapid against cleavers and speedwells, and there is residual control of later emerging weeds.

Available for use this autumn, Lexus Class can be used on winter wheat, winter oats, rye and triticale even under cold conditions in the autumn and early spring.

Its rapid breakdown when soil temperatures rise means there are no residues left to affect following crops in a normal rotation.

THE post-emergence herbicide Fusilade 250EW can now be applied safely to winter oilseed rape much later than previously allowable.

The new extension means Fusilade can be used up to before visible flower bud stage in winter rape.

Previously, a restriction on use until December 31 was in place. The herbicide controls a wide range of grass weeds, volunteer cereals and couch in oilseed rape, but does not control annual meadowgrass.

HANDLING granular chemicals is eased with a new introduction from Rhone-Poulenc for its nematicide Temik which is used in potatoes, sugar beet and carrot crops.

The Temik Surefill chemical transfer system available from this autumn allows potato growers to fill application hoppers with granules without the usual associated risks of dust and spillage.

GROUPS of growers, as well as individuals, can legally import and use supplies of agrochemicals for their own use for a one-off fee of £290 paid to the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD).

The imported products do have to meet certain criteria set out by the PSD and each grower in the importing group must fill out a separate application form.

PSD only issues approvals for parallel imports when the product is identical to a UK-approved product. Such imports can be from anywhere in the world, not just the EU.

Applications should be accompanied by an English translation of the product label and by declarations on the intended uses.

Application forms are available from the PSD at Mallard House, Kings Pool, 3 Peasholme Green, York YO1 2PX.

THE non-ploughing ECOtillage system based around the use of Monsantos glyphosate products and Simbas cultivation and drilling equipment is likely to extend from cereals into sugar beet, peas, and even potatoes.

About 200,000ha of cereals in the UK was drilled last year using minimum or no cultivation techniques, according to Monsantos Colin Stride.

In France, around two million ha went down this route, and a further 600,000ha in Germany.

More UK farmers are expected to adopt the practice this autumn in the light of falling end prices.

Monsanto, which has launched an internet web site with agronomic and technical guidance on ECOtillage (http://www.ecotillage.com), believes growers on all soil types are warming to the techniques.

A FULL list of agrochemicals with the 6m buffer zone restriction on spraying is published in the August issue of the Pesticides Register.

More than 400 products likely to be used through tractor-mounted sprayers are listed.

Direct spraying of these products should not fall within 6m of surface waters or ditches.

Issue No8 of the Pesticides Register costs £6.25 from Stationery Office bookshops or by telephone from 0171-873-9090.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

BEWARE of the trend towards low seed rates. Even at earlier drilling dates, it could be a false economy, according to results from the Crop Care trial site at Saxham, Suffolk.

Wheat sown on 24 September last year at a low seed rate yielded 0.66t/ha (5cwt/acre) below that drilled at conventional seed rates.

So spending more on extra seed is worthwhile, says Colin Myram of the Crop Care Group. At wheat prices of £75/t and seed at £275/t, the average return from extra seed works out at £19.75/ha (£8/acre).

In the trials on the clay loam site near Bury St Edmunds a range of wheat varieties were compared.

The low seed rate plots were drilled at about 110kg/ha (44.5kg/acre), with the exact rate calculated in accordance with the thousand-grain weight for each variety. The target plant population was 190 plants/sq m.

The high seed rate was double this. The average seed rate worked out at 220kg/ha (89kg/acre), and the target plant population was 380 plants/sq m.

At later drilling dates, the yield benefits from increasing seed rate continue (see table), but overall yield declines sharply.

"Early drilling is critical," says Mr Myram. "If seed had been available earlier, we would have drilled closer to the beginning of September."

The higher seed rates do not depress grain quality – quite the reverse. Mr Myrams results show specific weights are lower across all drilling dates with low seed rates.

At the September drillings, the varieties which showed most return from a higher seed rate were Rialto, Savannah, Harrier and Consort.

With winter barley, the message is similar. The payback from higher seed rates is, on average, £22.30/ha (£9/acre). "We picked up a similar trend last year," says Mr Myram. "Results show growers should drill early, without a drop in seed rates."

The barley trials compared a high seed rate – aiming for 280 plants/sq m – with one half this rate.

Varietal differences were more pronounced. Fanfare, Halcyon and Baton benefited most from a higher seed rate at September drillings.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

SUFFOLK

WHO said it was going to be a "low disease" year? Many agronomists did, early in the season. But agrochemical distributor Colin Myram of the Crop Care Group certainly didnt.

Results from the companys trial site near Bury St Edmunds show he was right. Fungicides have added over 3t/ha (1.2t/acre) to untreated yields on responsive varieties such as Riband.

In this region, wide-scale foliar disease arrived fairly late in the day. Early drought kept the lid on disease pressure at the start of the year. However, the sharp-eyed Mr Myram spotted low levels of yellow rust and septoria on his site early in the spring. Then the rain started in June, and disease took off.

"Timing was the most critical factor this year – with both the old and the new fungicide chemistry," says Mr Myram. "The traditional approach – the T1 mid April, a T2 mid May, and earwash mid June – has come out top."

The thinking with the new chemistry had been that the best strategy might be early spray timings, to exploit long-lasting protectant activity. But this has not proved the case at this site.

The other lesson learnt was that the new fungicides give the best results when mixed with partner triazoles. In this season at least, neither the strobilurins nor the plant activator were good enough on their own. And the yield response was only significant when full rates were used, says Mr Myram.

This must increase the pressure on the manufacturers for "more realistic" pricing of the new products, he comments. In other words, if the new fungicides are too expensive, then growers wont buy them.

That said, Mr Myram is pleased with "excellent" mildew control from early treatment with quinoxyfen (Fortress) and the strobilurin mix kresoxim-methyl with fenpropimorph (Ensign).

Cyprodinil (Unix in France) showed its mettle against eyespot, giving good yield responses – but was less visually effective against mildew. Some promise was shown by the plant activator SAR, which effectively "immunises" the wheat against disease. But more work is needed to investigate the varietal differences with SAR, suggests Mr Myram. Conventional triazole difenoconazole (Plover) and azoxystrobin cleaned up ears well.

Azoxystrobin and cyprodinil came up trumps against net blotch in winter barley, but the current best selling triazole, flusilazole (Sanction) continues to give good results. Once again, traditional timings were best with the barleys – a two spray sequence of early April followed by early March.

LINCS

YELLOW rust, septoria and late mildew swept through the plots at the Horncastle trials site, Lincolnshire in June.

"Disease pressure was as bad as we have ever seen this late in the season," says Dr David Stormonth of distributor Brown Butlin.

"Some untreated wheats were completely defoliated by mid June."

When T1 sprays went through in April, the site was relatively clean. But by flag leaf emergence in May, "all hell had broken loose," remembers Dr Stormonth.

Three strategies were under scrutiny: a conventional triazole sequence at T1, T2 and T3; a strobilurin sequence (Amistar with Fortress) at T1 and T2; and a developmental programme which included the plant activator SAR and Amistar at T1, followed by a kresoxim-methyl/epoxiconazole mix at T2. The massive disease invasion gave the fungicides a tough test.

"Intriguingly, some varieties responded more to the strobilurin sequence than others. But were not sure why, as yet."

Wheats which appeared to suit the Amistar programme included Equinox, Rialto, Blaze, Madrigal, Chaucer and Caxton. Abbot and Raleigh were less responsive.

The results, averaged over all the wheats, are given in the table. Top performance in terms of gross margin was from the strobilurin sequence – and the figures are calculated using "sensible costings" for the Amistar.

"It was impressive just how clean Amistar kept the lower canopy and stems. And although there had been concerns that this product might keep ears green for too long at the end of the season, in fact crops turned very quickly, and there were no problems with maturity."

Fortress proved itself as an "exceptionally powerful" mildewicide, says Dr Stormonth.

In all, he is optimistic about the cost-effectiveness of the new chemistry. "The huge yield responses weve recorded are a reflection of the intense disease pressure. Treated and untreated plots were like chalk and cheese."

NOTTS

THERE was "phenomenal" net blotch control from Amistar on winter barley on this Brown Butlin site, says Dr Stormonth. "However, this product could need help tackling rhynchosporium – perhaps a little mbc should be added."

The developmental strobilurin mix of kresoxim-methyl with epoxiconazole did well against mildew.

Although barley crops were less badly hit by disease compared with the wheats, a two spray sequence was still required, says Dr Stormonth.

"At the barley T1 timing, cyprodinil is interesting, because of its eyespot activity. Its useful against rhynchosporium and net blotch – but its not the best.

"Of all the varieties, Regina looked tremendous – Fortress kept it extremely clean. It didnt lodge, despite being pushed with high nitrogen – though a growth regulator was used."

THE BORDERS

UNLIKE conditions down south, there was disease on the CSC CropCare site right from day one.

"The septoria pressure has been as bad as we have ever seen here," says Dr Keith Dawson. "On Riband the yield response has been the highest ever at 80%. But we havent had yellow rust – yet!"

With many plots yet to harvest, yield data is limited. But visual assessments showed the excellent protectant activity from kresoxim-methyl and quinoxyfen. "Both products gave about 70 days protection against mildew."

The best programmes were flusilazole with either the strobilurin kresoxim-methyl/fenpropimorph or quinoxyfen as an early spray, followed by kresoxim-methyl with epoxiconazole at flag leaf timing. This is due to good green leaf retention and better stress management by the plant, suggests Dr Dawson.

Cost-effectiveness calculations for this strobilurin must wait for yield results, but he expects to see benefits over and above those from disease control – even with costings including £70/t wheat prices. "But beware – weve only seen these yield benefits at the full rate."

Dr Dawson is concerned that manufacturers may be asking too high a price for the new chemistry. "Although strobilurins have been cost-effective in our trials over the past five years, the manufacturers must now take a more realistic view on fungicide prices."

With late maturity the rule in the north, any delay to ripening is bad news. But kresoxim-methyl has not extended maturity, reckons Dr Dawson. "Ripening was accelerated at the end of the season."

With barley, cyprodinil has shown its worth as a mixer product, adding good eyespot and net blotch control. Ensign and Fortress have both given "exceptional" mildew control.

"We may see a revival of Prisma and Pastoral – we can now control disease all season long with one well-timed early spray. And autumn mildew control, on light soils, has lasted through until April – its astounding. Flusilazole with kresoxim-methyl worked very well against rhynchosporium."

Dr Dawson notes a growth regulatory effect from kresoxim-methyl on the winter barleys. He speculates that this could be due to better rooting, through control of early mildew.

Spring barleys have benefited from fewer screenings and lower grain nitrogens following both quinoxyfen and kresoxim-methyl. "Dose rates and timings need more careful management on the spring barleys." Mildew has been "the worst for 15 years" on some varieties; both quinoxyfen and kresoxim-methyl have given up to 80 days control, he says.

"For growers, the key will be to use the best of the new products and mix with the old, for a least-cost formulation. The use of certain adjuvants also improves the new chemistry."

WARKS

IN THE face of high disease pressure, the strobilurin Amistar gave a sterling performance at the Zeneca trials site near Kineton, says trials officer Mel Codd.

Brigadier was badly hit by yellow rust, first spotted in early April. With a range of Amistar sequences, yields were astoundingly three times greater than the untreated control.

Conventional high performance triazoles also did a good job – but Amistar was still ahead, out yielding the triazole programmes by 20-25%.

"However, a flag leaf spray of full rate Opus did have the edge against straight Amistar," says Mr Codd. "It highlights the superior kick-back of the triazoles."

The best Amistar sequences are where the strobilurin was put on as part of a T1 mix, with a full rate follow up at flag leaf mixed with flutriafol.

Septoria-prone Riband given early Amistar in March, at tillering (GS26-27), appeared to benefit – but with the other varieties the conventional T1 timing worked better.

On balance, Mr Codd reckons the traditional T1 timing is a safer option "because otherwise the gap between sprays could become rather too wide for comfort. With the very early treatment, a safer strategy might be to include more frequent, low dose sprays."

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Youve mapped your yields. Now what? Tia Rund examines the findings of a recent precision farming conference for signs of an on-farm breakthrough.

SCIENCE and its technical spinoffs are still well ahead of understanding how farmers can adjust their crop inputs variably for optimum results – but the gap is narrowing.

Across the world, there is impending agreement that soil quality, particularly the ability to store and provide water to growing plants, is the biggest single influence on yield variation across a field.

Positioning systems already available to the farmer or under development are accurate, reliable and affordable, and there are further developments pending with remote sensing systems which will measure field organic matter by satellite, precision application machinery, and computerised control systems.

But Dr John Stafford, of Silsoe Research Institute, and scientific co-ordinator of the First European Conference on Precision Farming, admitted more development is needed to put all this crop and soil science together with agronomy to work on an individual farm or field.

Research from both the USA and UK reported at the Warwick University conference highlighted the role of soil type and quality. Scientists from the US Department of Agriculture and the University of Missouri-Columbia said the soil quality which caused the most significant variation is its ability to store and provide water, itself a combination of many other measurable factors.

Their trials show that using an electromagnetic induction (EM) sensor trailed behind an ATV can map this ability. Links between yield and individual soil measurements such as pH and organic matter are low, even negative in some cases, argued the Americans. But the EM readings at which maximum yield occurred remained relatively constant for each field over different years and crops, and for differing soil types.

EM sensing could be used to explain and predict product variability with much more detail than traditional soil survey maps, they said.

However, soil scientist Eunice Lord and ADAS colleagues believed not enough is yet known about the effect of soil type on the timing and severity of restrictions on water uptake, and the implications of this for the crops response to other inputs. Is crop water use the cause or the effect of yield variation, they asked.

Studies on contrasting soils at ADAS sites at Boxworth, Cambridgeshire, and Gleadthorpe, Nottinghamshire, showed increased water use correlated with, but was not always the cause of, increased yields.

On two clay soils, yield was positively correlated with soil moisture deficit (SMD) in July. But both yield and SMD were more strongly correlated with early crop growth, and with take-all scores, than with any measured soil properties.

Neutron probe measurements showed equal soil water content across the sites in spring, but moisture abstraction was smaller, and reached a shallower depth, in one field in both years of the experiment. Poor soil structure, take-all disease or both may have contributed to reduced growth, restricting demand for water.

In contrast, on the sands at Gleadthorpe, in a drought year, variation in soil water supply appeared to be the direct cause of variation in yield.

Ms Lord concluded that, before basing input decisions on variable yields, its important to identify whats truly limiting yield, and how far the limitations can be overcome.

WORK headed by Eric Evans at Newcastle University has focussed on optimising lime applications to take within-field variation into account. Across the two study fields in Northumberland, there were substantial areas with uniform pH. The fact that these crossed field boundaries shows current arable practice isnt reducing the pH variation.

Spatially-targeted lime applications are calculated to be more effective than a uniform dressing based on an average pH for the whole field. Using a flat rate, half the area would either not reach the target minimum pH 6.5 or would exceed pH 7.0.

Variations in soil texture and organic matter can be ignored when estimating lime requirement, unless they vary a lot across the field, added Dr Evans. If large numbers of samples are to be taken to estimate the extent of within-field variation, then the cheaper and quicker the soil analysis, the better. Since texture and organic matter content change relatively slowly over time, after an initial assessment lime requirements can be derived from pH measurements alone.

USE like-for-like to get the most from crop yield maps and dont try to associate yield variation in say, oilseed rape one year, with the differences in wheat the next.

Researchers at the Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Denmark have reviewed a total of 82 fields at nine locations – eight in England and one in Denmark – to see how useful yield maps are for predicting yield variation.

They concluded that, for each field, its better to look back in time to find an identical crop. For example, for predicting yield variation for wheat, its better to base that on when it last featured in the rotation, rather than looking at the previous years break crop results.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

Spraying is not the only way of tackling wheat bulb fly. Gilly Johnson visits a Norfolk farm where predatory beetles are being encouraged instead.

WHEAT bulb fly larvae made a meal of cereal profits in much of East Anglia last year.

Like many of his neighbours, Norfolk grower Nigel Carey has resorted to conventional defence tactics in the past. This has meant spraying as soon as grubs are seen in the plant stems.

But that was then. Now he is experimenting with a different approach – harnessing natural predators and cultural techniques to clean up the fields. He is being helped by agronomist John Purslow and Louise Catling, who is monitoring the predatory insects.

It is not an easy task, because the risk is relatively high. The 390ha (963 acres) of sandy loam at Mill Farm, Great Witchingham, supports a rotation which includes sugar beet, malting barley, wheat and vining peas. So there are ample opportunities for the wheat bulb fly to find the bare soil it prefers for summer egg laying. And the fine, sandy soil allows the larvae easy travelling from tiller to tiller, at egg hatch in the spring.

In previous years Mr Carey has used "deadheart" sprays of dimethoate: "I feel this is a pernicious product environmentally because of its blanket kill," he comments. "We would prefer to do without, if we could."

Last spring, wheat bulb fly attack became only too painfully clear. On one field, about 40 shoots/sq m were damaged. Mr Carey was preparing to spray, but Mr Purslow advised against it.

So Mr Carey kept the sprayer out – saving money, and reducing the risk of environmental damage. "On close inspection we discovered that a third of the problem was due to opomyza, not wheat bulb fly larvae," explains Mr Purslow. This pest is not as damaging, as it does not migrate between tillers like wheat bulb fly. Instead only one shoot is affected.

"An organophosphate spray would have only been an act of revenge – it wouldnt have been cost effective," he argues. "And it would also have knocked out many insect predators such as Carabid beetles. Potential ear numbers were high at over 1,000/sq m, and so the crop was able to withstand attack."

Respectable yields this harvest show that it was the right decision, says Mr Carey. "The crop ended up with 700 ears/sq m, which on this soil was about right."

So this year hes changing course on wheat bulb fly control. First avenue of attack is cultural. Where the rotation allows, early drilling has been proved to be effective – well established crops can survive wheat bulb fly far better than late-sown cereals.

Taking this argument further; if the crop starts off with more than enough tillers, then some can be safely sacrificed to the larvae in the spring. So Mr Purslow is advising early drilling at higher seed rates than would normally be used with this light soil.

His recommendation for wheat on one field following vining peas is for 175 seeds/sq m drilled in the first week of September, going up to 195 seeds/sq m if operations are delayed into the second week. The seed rate during the second half of September would need to be higher still – 225 seeds/sq m.

Consort – "one of the few varieties suited to early drilling" – is the wheat Mr Purslow has chosen.

"This should leave us with 1,000 tillers/sq m in the early spring, enabling the crop to survive moderate attack without economic loss. Its also the case that attack is increased when prostrate tillering occurs – and this is often seen when plant numbers are low."

The cost of the extra seed must be taken into account, says Mr Purslow. But this should be weighed against savings possible from avoiding "deadheart" dimethoate sprays – at upwards of £5.75/ha (£2.30/acre) for each application. Pre-egg hatch sprays are another widely-used alternative – these cost about £17.75/ha (£7.20/acre). For comparison, using more seed would add about £5.60/ha (£2.20/acre) to the seed bill.

For the early drillings, a consistent, shallow depth is best, because a shorter shoot is less of a target. Mr Carey uses a Vaderstad drill which he believes places seed accurately, in spite of varying soil type.

"Conventional drills, which push the coulter into the soil, are more at the mercy of soil resistance. This drill holds the coulter out at the required depth and is more consistent over our varying soils within each field."

The unit also leaves the soil in a firm condition, which helps with control of wheat bulb fly and other soil pests. "Since using the Vaderstad we havent had to use slug pellets," says Mr Carey.

For later drillings following sugar beet, other factors have to be taken into account, such as soil moisture. But in the main, seed should be drilled as shallow as is feasible – because the deeper the shoot, the greater the chance of larval attack, says Mr Purslow.

Such cultural practices are no secret. More revolutionary are Mr Purslows attempts to discover how beetle predators might be encouraged to polish off wheat bulb fly eggs and larvae.

"As yet, no-one has quantified what impact ground beetles might have on this pest," he comments. So with the co- operation of Mr Carey, the field following vining peas now contains a farm trial.

Farm practice

The major area is being ploughed, then drilled – as would be standard farm practice. But one section is to be tine cultivated instead. Traps will provide the evidence as to whether the different cultivation techniques have an effect on beetle populations throughout the season.

Mr Purslow suspects that ploughing could be bad news for the ground living beetles, because of the chaos of soil inversion on the beetles habitat. And this may have a knock-on effect on wheat bulb fly larval populations in the spring.

"But theres also the question as to what happens to the wheat bulb fly eggs, when they are ploughed in – will some be killed by ploughing? Or does ploughing worsen matters, by extending the egg hatch period, because it takes longer for the warmth to reach them in the spring?"

He suspects that early egg hatch is likely to be safer for the crop, because late frosts can kill a large number of larvae.

Mr Purslow and Ms Catling will be attempting to find some answers this season. As an environmental enthusiast, Mr Carey supports their efforts – though he recognises that non- spraying strategies could involve more management time and effort.

"Part of the problem is that insecticides such as dimethoate are too cheap – its only too easy to spray just in case," he comments. "Its much more difficult working out whether or not its really justified – but thats what we must do to help nature work with us."

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

DONT delay in preparing the combine for its out-of-season lay-up. The earlier the job is done, the easier it will be to carry out.

Make every effort to start the work before dust and harvest remains set solid, and vermin have the time to invade the machine looking for a winter bed and a tasty wire, seal or connection through which to chew.

Massey Ferguson combine specialist, Robin Thompstone, recommends that all combines be inspected and laid up as if they were going to be put to work again the very next day. "Leaving the machine ready to go combining immediately will eliminate any worries or doubts about its mechanical condition prior to next years harvest," he says.

As extra insurance, Mr Thompstone advises that the combine and its components be run for half an hour every two weeks. "This will keep belts and chains supple, maintain lubrication to gears and bearings and discourage vermin infestation," he explains.

"If rats or mice are a problem, they can be deterred by placing mothballs throughout the combine such as the grain pan, straw walkers and fuse board."

Before inspecting or working on the combine, all loose chaff and harvest debris needs to be brushed away, preferably in the field. To assist an air line or, ideally, a vacuum cleaner should then be used on all areas where dust has accumulated, both inside and out.

Particular attention should be paid to cleanliness of the threshing mechanism, straw walkers and sieves, especially when the last crop was damp or sticky, for example linseed or beans. Although it is possible to clean the sieves without removing them, a more thorough job will be made if they are removed, washed and dried and the grain pan is vacuumed.

With the machine made as clean as possible, drive it onto a dry, level and well illuminated area of concrete and remove all guards. Note any damaged or bent metal work or components (Pic 1) which should be repaired or replaced.

The best method of inspecting and preparing the combine for out-of-season storage is to start at the front of the machine and work towards the rear, keeping the operators instruction manual close at hand.

First, inspect the pick-up reel for damaged or missing tines and check the condition of the bearings, replacing any worn components.

Moving down to the crop cutting assembly, look for broken or damaged knife sections (Pic 2) and fingers, straightening or replacing as necessary. Check the condition of the knife drive wobble box, draining and changing the oil as specified in the operators manual.

Next, inspect the table auger and retractable fingers for stone damage and wear. Auger flights and bent fingers can usually be straightened, but make sure there has been no damage to the upper surface of the table. An often overlooked component is the auger drive slip clutch (Pic 3) which has wearing parts and may need readjusting to the recommended tension.

While working around the combine, visually inspect the condition of all bearings and bushings (Pic 4). Signs of worn components are lubricant leakage and shaft locations with excess wear on one or more sides.

Suspect bearings or bushings can usually be confirmed by applying pressure to the drive or driven shaft, watching and feeling for movement.

Check the condition of the main crop elevator, the threshing drum and concave, straightening or replacing worn or damaged parts.

Most of the principal drive belts and chains are located beneath removable guards on both sides of the machine. Turning the drive pulleys over by hand (a large cranking handle is normally provided to assist), inspect all belts for signs of wear, cracks and abrasion, replacing as necessary before re-tensioning to the deflection specified in the operators manual.

The same advice applies to chains. Where there is excessive dirt or grease, remove and clean the chain using paraffin or a proprietary chain cleaner. Lubricate lightly, replace and re-tension to the specified setting.

Batteries and electrical components and connections are particularly susceptible to dirt, dust and moisture. Beware of any build-up of debris on battery casings (Pic 5) which can cause shorting and sparking between the terminals. Check wiring for signs of wear and abrasion and ensure that all visible connections are sound and secure. Light bulbs should be checked and replaced at the same time.

For optimum safety and balance, ensure that any damaged or missing stationary and static knives (Pic 6) on straw choppers are replaced with the approved part for the specific straw chopper model. Replacing rotor knives in pairs also helps maintain balance.

Seal condition

Check the condition of all canvas and rubber seals fitted to prevent spills and losses from the grain pan (Pic 7), sieves, stone trap, main crop elevator and unloading auger.

Examining the seals, remove the plates at the bottom of elevators and inspect all of the flights and chains for condition and wear. This can be done at the same time as the combines pulleys are being turned during belt inspection (Pic 8).

If the combine has a water trap built into the diesel fuel line, drain the assembly until diesel runs clearly (Pic 9). The tank should then be filled to the top to prevent condensation.

Guided by the operators instruction manual, check, drain and renew hydraulic and engine oils and all filters (Pic 10). Clean all radiators with a brush and air line, not forgetting the cabs air conditioning system and filters (Pic 11).

Tyres must be checked and inflated to the recommended pressure. For health and safety reasons, the tyres should remain in contact with the ground during storage.

If the combine has been washed down, allow all components to dry before spraying all bare metals with a rust preventive, ideally one which will not affect or contaminate rubber or plastic parts. Pay particular attention to the cutter bar, table auger and pulley sheaves.

Finally, drive the combine to a covered storage area and close all hydraulic rams to prevent rust, turning the rear wheels to full lock to close the steering ram (Pic 12).

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

OPERATING refurbished machinery can cut the cost of replacement and depreciation, boost harvesting capacity and help reduce reliance on contractors.

So goes the sales message, but does it work in practice and do the figures add up?

According to ADAS mechanisation consultant, John Bailey, it does for sugar beet growers. For many of them it is difficult to justify buying a new harvesting kit when contractors charges for lifting and carting the crop average around £148/ha (£60/acre).

"It is hard for even the largest farms using their own machinery and labour to match that figure," he says. "A realistic cost for operating ones own equipment and staff is £75 an acre and often more.

"The problem on the majority of farms is the limited amount of work available for the harvester accompanied by a short-term labour requirement of up to four people.

"Smaller trailers on farms means more tractors and drivers, pushing costs higher and making maintenance and depreciation even more disproportionate to the annual acreage harvested."

Mr Bailey points out that by offering a specialist service across an extended acreage, contractors can keep costs down while continuing to invest in modern high performance machines able to do a fast and effective job for their customers.

"By using a contractor, the job ought also to be completed sooner enabling the ground to be put back into cereals quicker. However, farmers must be sure that their staff are gainfully employed while the contractor is at work. One answer could be an arrangement where they drive for the contractor."

One drawback with a contract operation is when sugar beet tops are to be fed to sheep. Unless the team is prepared to stagger its fieldwork, speed of operation may be simply too fast for the flock.

Despite the economic and logistical disadvantages of "do it yourself" harvesting, British Sugar says that only half the national crop is lifted by contractors, with many farmers preferring to retain control over the operation. Noting this, Standen Engineering is reintroducing this year its refurbishment scheme for sugar beet harvesters.

The company says that it is increasingly difficult for smaller-acreage growers to justify the cost of financing a new sugar beet harvester costing £35,000 and upwards.

On an advance of £35,000, finance repayments over five years at current interest rates will be in the region of £8,750 per annum, while even a seven year term will cost almost £7,000 a year. Taken over 100 acres, this equates to £70 an acre or 20% more a year than a contractor would charge and one still has to physically lift and cart the crop.

The figures become more favourable when considering refurbished equipment. According to Standens Andy Bone, the price for a complete factory refurbishment including a years warranty should be less than half that of a new machine.

"Sugar beet harvesters take a real beating and depreciate very quickly," he comments. "Provided growers accept that they are not getting the latest model, then a refurbished machine can make good economic sense compared with buying new.

"We plan to offer a menu of harvester rebuild and component replacement options to suit different requirements and pockets. The top level will see the machine totally stripped down, shotblasted, repainted and rebuilt using all new parts as necessary."

Standens sugar beet harvester refurbishment scheme complements a similar service already available on potato harvesters. This, says Mr Bone, is proving popular due to the high grower demand for own-use machines.

"There are far fewer contractors offering a potato harvesting service due to the sensitivity of the crop," he points out. "The majority of growers prefer to control every aspect of the operation from de-stoning to grading."

Mr Bailey agrees, adding that a good case can be made for buying a competently refurbished machine instead of new on an enterprise growing 60 to 100 acres a year. "With pressure increasing on margins, a sound, rebuilt harvester with a warranty merits serious consideration as a way of reducing costs," he says.

An important point to consider is the ability of the chosen machine to harvest the crop at a good work-rate with minimal damage.

Although machine design, reliability and performance have improved steadily over the past 10 years, it is still necessary to make sure that the refurbished machine is able to meet the required maximum damage limits and is supported by the supply dealer or manufacturer.

Because potato harvesters are not subjected to the same wear and tear as other harvesting machinery, a five year old refurbished machine with warranty can make a good buy at a price up to 50% less than the equivalent new model.

The strength of its extended warranty is a factor which APH says has helped it become the largest specialist supplier of refurbished combines in the UK. Concentrating on the New Holland 8000 series, the company supplies completely rebuilt combines at prices considerably lower than current new models.

Chairman, Stephen Allen, says that although it may not have all the sophisticated features or throughput of a new machine, an APH rebuild offers growers guaranteed reliability and performance at much lower cost.

Hired or purchased as a farms only machine or as support for another combine, APH rebuilds are a valuable option to farmers wishing to replace an existing combine with newer, more reliable model.

All machines leaving the companys workshops have a standard 12 month warranty and this can be extended for a further four years with the APH Harvestcare scheme.

Costing between £600 and £800 per year, depending on combine model, the insurance-backed warranty covers all major components in the event of failure or breakdown. The cost includes an annual out-of-season checkover and the supply of a replacement machine if APH is unable within 24 hours to repair the combine or replace any of the components covered by the warranty.

Mr Bailey says that a refurbished combine is likely to prove a practical alternative to a new machine on many farms.

"One needs to look at the outlay in direct relationship to the acreage to be covered," he says. "Total combining costs must be kept at or below £25 an acre if a profit is to be made at a time of low grain prices. Local contractor charges will provide a useful guideline."

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

This years high blight pressure severely tested one growers ability to comply with Natures Choice guidelines. Heres how he did it.

PLANS for a radically revised blight control programme were abandoned this year. But Chris de Jong at Babraham Farms still managed to comply with Tescos input specifications.

Blight is a constant threat to the 60ha (150 acres) of irrigated potatoes on the 623ha (1,540 acres) arable farm near Cambridge. The crop includes Desiree, Fianna and Saxon for prepacking, and Maris Piper grown on a chipping contract.

"Traceability is fast becoming a vital component in the production of all our crops," says Mr de Jong. "To comply with Tescos Natures Choice scheme we now have full traceability in potatoes going for pre-packing. This year we planned to modify our blight control strategy to rely on cheaper products. The extreme blight pressure forced a re-think."

Until this season blight control revolved around systemic fungicides. The plan for 1997 was to use mancozeb-based Dithane for the first treatment before switching to Trustan (cymoxanil + mancozeb + oxadixyl), which has both systemic and protectant activity.

After two sprays, applied while the crop was still growing vigorously, Dithane was scheduled to return at the full canopy stage. A tin-based product was planned for the end of the season to protect tubers.

First spray

As planned, the first Dithane spray went on as soon as the plants were as big as a lettuce and before tops met in the row. But as blight started to threaten, Trustan was used for the next three treatments at the maximum allowed at 10-day intervals.

Then Curzate (cymoxanil + mancozeb), which has some kick-back activity, was used for the next four sprays before the switch was made to the fluazinam-based Shirlan. Brestan (fentin acetate + maneb) was used for the last two treatments.

"We had intended using a lot more Dithane early on to keep costs down, possibly alternating with Curzate to keep the fungus guessing," says Mr de Jong.

"But because of the huge threat we could not risk it. We managed to maintain a 10-day spray interval even in the wet June, but were prepared to go closer if the worst came to the worst.

"This is the first season we have grown for pre-packing under Tescos Natures Choice scheme and, despite blight, we were able to work within the strict protocol."

The variety line-up for 1997 was changed to suit market need, and to match the farms ability to deliver quality produce. Piper and Fianna were used for chipping last year with Sante, Desiree, and Saxon for pre-packing.

This year the acreage of Piper was cut back and Fianna, now for packing, expanded. Sante was replaced by an increased acreage of Saxon. There were 15ha (37 acres) of Saxon, and 23ha (57 acres) of Desiree.

"Sante seems to do well, but end-users prefer Saxon," says Mr de Jong. "As supermarkets like the appearance and taste of the locally-bred variety our acreage was stepped up. According to NIAB, its in-built ability to cope with blight is not as good as other varieties, but we like it and it is popular with our customers."

Because of the soil type – sandy loam and chalk – at Babraham, tuber dry matters in recent years have been high, averaging between 23% and 25%. This increases the risk of bruising so careful choice of variety and gentle handling at lifting is essential.

According to Anglian Produce, the company which markets the farms crop, Saxons tubers from test digs in recent years have averaged 20.8% when Desiree was 23.7% and Sante 24.6%.

Ideally Mr de Jong would like to dig potatoes with less than 20% because the difference in susceptibility to bruising between 20% and 23% is enormous.

To minimise damage a careful watch is kept on tubers during lifting. A miniature tv camera mounted on the harvester and a monitor in the cab shows the driver the level in the trailer so the drop height can be reduced.

The main lesson from the 1997 season is the need for flexibility with blight control to cope with actual conditions. In future the installation of an in-field weather station could improve fungicide targeting and give potential for cost cutting.

This year a 12ft high radio relay mast was installed on a high part of the farm. So data gathered by a neighbours Adcon weather station could be sent down the line to a central base, allowing management decisions on actual conditions and individual crop needs to be made.

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Archive Article: 1997/09/20

20 September 1997

GROWERS might lament the way that potato marketing is moving, but they need to come to terms with the changes if theyre not to be left out in the cold. Thats the view of NIABs potato expert, Tom Dixon.

"As growing on spec for an unspecified market becomes increasingly hazardous, contract growing becomes more important. Production will be linked not just to the processors, but also to the pre-packing and general ware sectors.

The trend towards cooperative and group marketing and production is gaining momentum, and growers need to be tied into the stream," he says.

While the buyers influence may be resented, theres little place for the grower with an independent streak wishing to go it alone.

"Sure the supermarkets are bullish and very demanding, but people cant afford to deprive themselves of that big market. Besides, if theyre allied with a growers group, then at least theres a better chance of meeting might with might."

While you may be able to deal as an individual with processors today, within two or three years, two of the biggest processors at least – Walkers and Golden Wonder – will be sourcing entirely from groups, according to Mr Dixon. They will be dedicating production lines to different groups and looking to them to provide the continuity of supply to keep the lines running.

Variety choice

"The question behind variety choice has already moved on from what can I grow? to what can I sell?" says Mr Dixon. "But with the structural changes in the business it moves on another step from what can I sell this year? to what will sell in the longer term and by whom?"

Despite these changes, the most successful varieties are remarkably enduring. Mr Dixon believes that Estima, Cara and Maris Piper – together representing nearly 50,000ha of plantings – are unlikely to be dislodged for the next 10 years or so.

As well as their merits, he adds, growers have learnt to live with their shortcomings – Caras late maturity and Estimas susceptibility to blackleg, for instance.

"However, we can expect to see new names making an impression elsewhere – in the processing market, with novelty varieties and, hopefully, more flavourful ones."

On the crisping scene, Records longtime dominance has steadily been eroded over the past five years. Its problem, says Mr Dixon, is that although in taste and flavour terms it still makes a good crisp, variability in fry colour can lead to high levels of waste. The weight of Pepsico, in particular, is behind a drive for a more consistent pale fry colour.

Most people agree that it wont be a single variety that replaces Record, but a combination of Saturna, Hermes, Lady Rosetta and a small area of new varieties every year. Keeping a crisping plant running for 12 months of the year requires produce early, fresh and out of store, which would be difficult to achieve with a single variety.

There are fewer developments in the world of French fries which relies heavily on Pentland Dell and Russett Burbank with Shepody for early season production. Pentland Dell is as old as Record but is proving harder to replace, notes Mr Dixon. However, Spey is beginning to make an impact, as might Velox, he adds.

This years intake into Independent Variety Trials is the highest in 20 years, with a total of 38 varieties. "Some might say there are too many varieties, but there are so many market outlets," he remarks.

Satisfying

Breeders now have the added task of satisfying the green lobby. Genetic modification is certainly the easiest route to disease resistance, but its not clear when, if ever, consumers will accept the notion, points out Mr Dixon. "It might boil down to a choice between an environmentally friendly modified variety and a chemical hungry conventional one."

But the choice is hypothetical for the moment – there are no modified varieties in NIAB trials yet.

One area thats a difficult target for breeders is eating quality, says Mr Dixon. "Taste and flavour are so subjective, but some varieties are consistently identified as more flavoursome than others, such as Maris Peer, Charlotte and Nicola."

His advice for growers when selecting varieties is never to overlook the underlying limitations of where and how they farm – soil type and texture, fertility, the ability to irrigate, pest populations and the machinery and storage facilities in place all have a bearing. But the ideal is to adopt a distinctive variety which offers the opportunity to differentiate itself in the market.

There are few sectors where theres much room between supply and demand, but if there is its for high value salad varieties. Alex, a blue-eyed variety, to be considered for recommendation next year, is certainly distinctive. "But its cooking qualities worry me," says Mr Dixon. "If its as good as Nicola or Charlotte, it could be a winner."

If a variety has dual-purpose, then so much the better, he adds. Growers might feel less exposed to the vagaries of potato buyers if they at least have some marketing options. "Spey is a modern example – not only does it suit French fry production, but it also looks good as a pre-pack, although purists would say its too long and might damage too easily."

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