Archive Article: 1998/01/17 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Wondering if that surviving blackgrass could be resistant? Gilly Johnson reports on a new quick test that claims to offer an almost instant answer.

THE RACE to provide a rapid, commercial test for blackgrass resistance hots up with a prototype system launched this month from Novartis.

The QuickTest offers a definitive answer to resistance within three to four weeks, claims the company. The fastest turnaround from the current alternative – the blackgrass seed test – is an October result from seed gathered in summer.

One crucial advantage of the QuickTest compared with the blackgrass seed test is the fact it can be used at any point when the blackgrass emerges in autumn. It tests whole plants, not just seeds, and uses plant samples taken at any time between the two-three leaf stage and ear emergence. So growers who suspect they have a problem would not have to wait until summer, when blackgrass forms seed heads, in order to check out weed populations.

"The results are consistent at any growth stage. And because it allows the testing of blackgrass in the autumn and winter, growers would then be able to adjust herbicide programmes to suit," says Novartis Andy Pigott.

The QuickTest can check for all types of resistance, including target site – the fop and dim resistance; enhanced metabolism – the IPU type resistance; and cross resistances between different products. It could be performed before or after herbicide application. A wide number of grass weed species suit this testing system, but the initial focus is to be on blackgrass and wild oats.

The logistics and mechanics of plant collection will be worked out during this seasons trial run. For a basic single product resistance test, 30 plants are required; for target site resistance, 45 plants, and for cross-resistance against three products, 60 plants are needed. These have to arrive at the Cambridge testing site in good condition, preferably within a week of collection.

Certain distributors in resistance hotspots such as Lincs, Cambs and Essex will be offering it this season, but only on a limited basis.

Full launch is anticipated next autumn. Eventual cost to growers has yet to be decided, but Mr Pigott suggests that it will work out cheaper than the current alternative – the seed test, which costs about £70 to £100/sample.

He predicts that the QuickTest could ultimately be used by growers as a DIY windowsill test.

Mr Pigott is keeping mum on the detail of exactly how the test works; Novartis has applied for a world-wide patent on the methodology, which was devised in Switzerland. But he is confident that the QuickTest is the best answer yet – "and we have looked at a number of different solutions".

Resistance guru Dr Steve Moss of IACR-Rothamsted gives a cautious welcome. "Anything that helps growers assess resistance is a good idea, but it would have to prove itself as working reliably in practice, and thats not always easy. Even with the seed test, samples have to be of good quality in order to give a worthwhile, meaningful result – the same would apply here. I look forward to hearing more about how this test works."

Dr Moss and his team at IACR-Rothamsted are developing a fast turnaround seed test, using petrie dish assay techniques. The aim is to produce resistance results by September, in time for growers planning autumn herbicide programmes. The test is scheduled for a trial run this summer, and is under close scrutiny by AgrEvo, with a view to commercial development.

Elsewhere in Europe, rapid tests for blackgrass resistance are also being sought. French scientists at the Instutut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) are proposing three solutions: a 48-hour tiller technique, a more time-consuming pollen test and a seedling test.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Volunteer beans in the wheat after beans rotation will push costs up.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

UNTIL now, hybrid wheats have failed to live up to the hype. The quality of the hybrid seed has been questionable, and the yield advantage hasnt been consistently great enough to compensate for expensive seed prices.

But the time has come to think again, said Bill Angus, plant breeder with Nickerson Seeds. Hybrid seed production techniques have been transformed. So seed is now cheaper, and of better quality than it ever used to be. Add in the breadmaking premium potential of new hybrid varieties and the prospects for hybrid milling wheat in the UK look extremely promising, he says.

Nickerson trials with Cockpit, a French-bred hybrid with breadmaking potential, have shown UK yields of 7% over top conventional feed varieties, said Mr Angus. With a breadmaking premium, the potential margin over conventional feed wheats leaps ahead.

Costing out the potential returns from this hybrid, Mr Angus reckons that with a £5/t premium and a conservative 5% yield advantage, gross margins are £29/ha (£12/acre) over the best feed wheats. With a £10/t breadmaking premium this rises to £71/ha (£29/acre).

These figures use a hybrid seed price of £100/ha (£40/acre) – approximately twice that of conventional seed – and a base feed wheat price of £80/t. Thanks to hybrid vigour, a lower seed rate (about one-third conventional) may also be feasible, suggested Mr Angus. "Costs will come down further. I believe that within a few years, growers will see bagged hybrid seed for very little over the current premium cost of C1."

Cockpit is in National List trials, but seed could be marketed in the UK by Nickerson Seeds for autumn 1998 drillings. Commercial decisions will hinge on the UK millers verdict as to breadmaking quality. If this is favourable, expect to see added-value hybrids attract interest in the future, predicted Mr Angus.

FIRST there have been new lines of rape, beet, maize, soya and potatoes – and now its genetically-modified wheat. Watch out for a whole range of potential new uses for GM cereals, suggested Dr Paul Lazzeri of IACR-Rothamsted.

By tweaking its genes, wheat starch can be made to mimic the useful characteristics of imported maize starch. It could also be used for molecular farming of pharmaceutical substances.

Thats not all – bioengineering could transform wheat into a more digestible animal feed, or better quality breadmaking dough. A newly-created GM milling wheat line, based on Australian material, will be tested for breadmaking quality following UK field trials this summer, said Dr Lazzeri. "We hope to do similar work with British varieties this year."

Technical problems with GM barley are being overcome, says Dr Lazzeri. But the question remains as to whether the consumer will accept GM bread and beer. "The issue of public acceptability is likely to be resolved in other crops before GM wheat and barley come on to the market," he predicted.

IN DRY conditions, some cereal varieties appear to survive better than others. Why?

Dr John Foulkes of the University of Nottingham is hunting for clues. Its not easy, because drought tolerance is due to a combination of varietal characteristics. And it also makes a difference if drought arrives early or late in the season.

So far, Rialto looks a good choice for crops on drought-prone sites because of its ability to withstand drought stress both early and late. But any growers looking for more definitive guidance will be disappointed; the scientists cant give more detailed recommendations as yet.

Several theories are being put to the test. First to go by the board is the idea that early flowering varieties such as Soissons are more drought tolerant; Dr Foulkes and his team cant find anything but marginal evidence to support this.

Rooting depth and canopy size are other varietal characteristics coming under scrutiny. It might be thought that deeper rooting plants with smaller canopies have a greater chance of extracting, and holding onto, extra water. So far, the jury is still out.

But weight is given to the theory that varieties showing higher levels of soluble stem carbohydrate could be more drought tolerant. Rialto scores well on this count, alongside Equinox, Brigadier and Charger. Varieties with low soluble stem carbohydrate include Riband, Hereward, Hussar and Consort.

Choosing the right variety for a drought-prone site could save significant yield potential. "In the 1980s growers were losing about 17% yield each year due to drought – in todays changing climate, crops could be losing even more," said Dr Foulkes.

WEED control using less herbicide, carefully-chosen varieties, rotation and mechanical weeding should be possible without compromising yield.

Several papers considered how to optimise the components of such a system, and Dr Vic Jordan, of IACR-Long Ashton, reported on the most recent results from his LIFE series of trials.

Dr Andrea Grundy, of HRI Wellesbourne, conducted a weed control trial in wheat while she was at the University of Reading. Long-strawed Maris Huntsman and the shorter Mercia were used in the trial at differing seed and nitrogen application rates.

The additional shading from Huntsman produced significant reductions in the above-ground weed dry weight, in weed density and in the variety of weeds. Similar effects were found with increased nitrogen but the effect of seed rate was less pronounced. Huntsman gave greater overall yields and heavier thousand grain weights (TGW).

Dr Bob Froud-Williams, of Readings department of agricultural botany, agreed the competitive ability of varieties varied markedly according to rate of establishment, growth habit, tillering capacity, straw height, leaf canopy, and ability to intercept photosynthetically-active radiation.

Competitive ability

However, below ground activity was also found to be important. Root competition had the greatest impact on yield, said Dr Froud-Williams. Inter-row cultivation is favoured by some experts for integrated systems using lower herbicide rates. Phil Jones, of ADAS Boxworth, reported results from trials combining the two control methods.

In general, herbicides used at 20% of the label rate, followed by mechanical weeding, gave similar broad-leaved weed control to using the full rate of herbicide on its own.

Using any form of mechanical weeding more robust than the Einbock tine machine was likely to create too much crop damage, suggested Mr Jones. Spacing the rows at 33cm (13in) gave much greater scope for inter-row work with other types of weeder.

Only when there was a major grass weed problem – blackgrass in 1995 at Boxworth – did the integrated approach fail to give satisfactory weed control over four seasons on three sites.

The LIFE (less intensive farming and environment) project at IACR-Long Ashton was defended by its creator, Dr Vic Jordan, against criticism that it could not be applied to a 250ha (1,000 acres) East Anglian commercial farm with blackgrass and an inability to drill all cereals late in the autumn.

Dr Jordan agreed he would need to know more about factors not relevant to the South West before committing LIFE principles to such a large commercial acreage in the eastern counties. However, most of the relevant information was emerging from other projects, he added.

The LIFE trial is now entering its eighth year and has led to a 75% reduction in chemical active ingredient applied and to the use of 30% less nitrogen fertiliser. Yields are now running about 8% below a conventional system but profitability is 5% better.

Research with a practical slant – thats the focus of the Association of Applied Biologists. The Crops team gather the highlights from its annual meeting.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

&#8226 Caterpillar has bought Varity Perkins, the diesel engine business of LucasVarity for £803m. The deal is subject to shareholder and anti-trust authority approval.

&#8226 Valtra Tractors (UK) is the new name for Runcorn-based Sisu Machinery following the merger of Finnish parent businesses Partek and the Sisu Group, manufacturers of the Valmet range of tractors.

Sales of Valmet tractors in the UK have bucked the downward trend – registrations in the nine months from January 1997 increased by 33% over the same period the previous year.

&#8226 Sands Agricultural Machinery has introduced a testing scheme for its range of self-propelled sprayers. Users can request a machine check by Sands staff who follow a comprehensive checklist and issue a sprayworthiness certificate on successful completion. All new machines sold this year will be supplied complete with an operator safety kit which comprises, fairly exhaustively, overalls, boots, gloves, face mask, respirator, measuring jugs and spray record book.

&#8226 A new option on the multi-purpose Clayton tractor is hydro-mechanical transmission, combining the convenience of stepless joystick control with the durability of mechanical transmissions. The joystick controls the output of a variable-speed hydraulic pump which in turn drives the existing two-speed transfer box.

Because only two short lengths of hydraulic pipework are involved, power loss is minimal and axle capacities the same as the alternative mechanical transmission versions.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Sewage is becoming more user friendly. So should growers take another look at the low cost substitute for nitrogen and phosphate, asks Sarah Henly.

Tumble drying conjures up images of freshness and softness. It is difficult to imagine the process applying to sewage sludge.

But the next sewage product to hit the agricultural market will be produced in a huge tumble drier, according to Peter Soulsby, recycling manager for Southern Water. The company is thermally drying cake made from raw or digested sewage in to granules or pellets to improve the acceptability of the material and help phase out liquid sewage by the year 2000.

Southern Water plans to produce 10,000t of cake a year, starting later this year as soon as its treatment plants are able to cope. A massive investment of £200m in converting and building new plants shows the companys commitment to dealing with impending EU legislation banning dumping at sea by the end of this year. Other water companies are taking similar measures.

"From January next year, any sewage which isnt applied to agricultural land must be incinerated or dumped in land fill sites. Currently only half of the sewage produced nationally is used on farmland. By converting liquids to cake or granules, we intend to encourage greater use by farmers, thus easing pressure on the environment," says Mr Soulsby.

The odourless, thermally dried granules will contain three years supply of phosphorus and a quarter of the nitrogen needed for a cereal crop, some sulphur and magnesium and small amounts of potassium. Thats worth about £10/t to growers, believes Mr Soulsby.

"By using the granules, growers could potentially save £60 to £80/ha on fertilisers and improve the organic matter content of their soils. Furthermore it will give yield increases over and above its fertiliser value. We are going to market it as a premium product, and expect demand to be greater than supply in the future."

Take off

But whether or not such sewage products take off depends as much on the consumer as the grower. Most food retailers harbour concerns about the use of sewage in general, particularly on crops consumed without processing such as potatoes.

David Sawday, corporate affairs manager for Tesco, believes its use is not appropriate for vegetables, and questions other applications.

"The jurys out on sewage sludge in terms of how the public feels about it, and whether or not heavy metals are a health risk. We are currently reviewing its use and there will have to be a convincing argument in its favour for us to accept any crops grown with it."

Tescos quality assurance audit, Natures Choice, will in future apply to cereals as well as vegetable and potatoes, and guidelines will cover the use of sewage sludge. Mr Sawdays gut feeling is that it will not be acceptable.

"As consumers ourselves, we must ask ourselves how we would feel if we were told the food in front of us had been grown using human waste."

Sainsburys company microbiologist, Dr Alec Kyriakides, feels more must be done to address safety concerns. "Consumers are going to ask the question why should sewage be applied to food products if it cant be dumped at sea. Is it really safe?"

He believes the decision about its widespread use could go either way. A meeting involving the water, agricultural, and retail industries later this month will address the major issues of safety and acceptability.

As a microbiologist, Dr Kyriakides feels that the use of sewage on farmland is something that can be done safely provided appropriate controls are adopted. But when dumping at sea is banned at the end of the year, he doesnt want to see it all channelled down one route. He would like water companies to consider other land disposal options such as forests, grassland and crops for fuel.

ADAS soil scientist at Gleadthorpe, Dr Brian Chambers, is happy that sewage used on farm crops within the DOE Code of Practice is safe to consumers. Growers have a responsibility to monitor the levels of heavy metals in treated soils, to ensure they dont exceed safety limits.

"It takes hundreds of years for arsenic or selenium for example, to build up to worrying levels in soil, so it is not an issue in the short term. More of an issue to growers is its acceptability in terms of odour and cost," he says.

The thermally dried cake doesnt have the unpleasant smell associated with liquid sewage, and it offers a cost advantage over bagged fertiliser. Dr Chambers believes the new formulation could be popular with growers provided water companies invest in reliable contractors who turn up at the appropriate time for using fertiliser rather than after the ideal drilling date.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Sampling confirms above average nitrogen reserves this winter. David Millar asks ADAS soil scientists what this means for growers this spring.

EARLY nitrogen could take a back seat on many arable farms until March thanks to a third year of higher-than-average soil residues.

In what is now the final ADAS annual survey to be funded by MAFF covering more than 100 arable sites throughout England, the picture for both heavy and light land soils (see tables) after cereals is much the same as for the past two years – nitrogen has been retained in the soil at high levels which should be available to heavy land crops, in particular, as spring approaches.

The benefit for growers, according to ADAS soil scientists Brian Chambers and Martyn Silgram, is the double opportunity both to be more flexible in timing their first nitrogen applications and to be more sparing with total nitrogen applications in some circumstances.

"Soil mineral nitrogen supply, which includes both mineralised N and plant N uptake during sampling in late October, is slightly higher than last year which I had thought was likely to be an all-time high," says Dr Chambers. At 104kgN/ha after cereals on heavy land, the N supply is about 20kg/ha above the long-term mean as recorded by ADAS over the past eight years.

"The last time we had low levels of autumn mineral N on heavy land was in autumn 1994 when it stood at 69kgN/ha so we are over 30kg/ha above that," he adds. "On the heavier soils it is likely to stay there over the winter."

On lighter soils after cereals, the sampling carried out by ADAS down to 90cm shows 82kgN/ha in October which is virtually the same as in autumn 1996. However, lighter soils are less able to retain this mineralised nitrogen over winter (see tables).

Dr Silgram believes the conditions leading to this autumns elevated levels of soil nitrogen go back to the winter of 1996 when leaching was low, and were further boosted by the accumulation of nitrogen while temperatures were higher than average from March 1997 through to harvest. Air temperature was as much as 1.5íC above the long term average at the ADAS Boxworth site in Cambridgeshire during this period, aiding the mineralisation of nitrogen in the soil through increased soil microbe activity.

Lower offtake

However, the key event which appears to have boosted soil reserves this year was the exceptionally high rainfall in June last year. Boxworth, for example, had 141mm of June rainfall more than 2.5 times the long term average for the heavy land site. The long drying period followed by the June re-wetting probably stimulated mineralisation of organic N, suggests Dr Silgram.

Both cereals and oilseed rape crops were too far advanced in their development to take much advantage of the release of nitrogen after the wet June. Also, generally lower crop yields than in 1996 and consequent lower offtake of nitrogen in harvested material, are likely to have contributed to the elevated soil N levels.

Less easy for the soil scientists to explain is the return of highish soil nitrogen levels after oilseed rape. At 140kgN/ha, these are back to the levels normally recorded pre-CAP reform in 1992 when growers were applying higher N rates in response to greater crop values. Soil levels are about 30kgN/ha above the last two seasons.

Temperature and the wet June are the most likely explanation since the rape crop did not appear to suffer the same general downturn in yield as winter wheat at the 1997 harvest. Dr Silgram suggests that fields after rape ought to be among those soil sampled for mineral N reserves by growers this year. Sampling priority should also be given to malting barley fields and any land ploughed after grass or receiving animal manure applications, where high residues are likely to be present.

Monitoring shows soil drainage so far this winter is about the same as the 40 year mean. This means the follow-up spring sampling in late February and early March will probably confirm the high retention of soil N reserves on heavy land sites, whereas on the lighter soils leaching losses are likely to reduce reserves to around 50kg/ha.

"There is no need to rush out with nitrogen on heavy land although clearly people will for practical reasons if they have 1,000 acres to get around," says Dr Chambers. "However, early March will be fine from the crops point of view.

"Growers do ask if they can miss out the early nitrogen because it offers a potentially useful saving but I am not keen. You cant be sure there will be enough there to see you through to the main April application so I still favour 40kgN."

The high soil reserves do give growers greater flexibility if weather conditions should stop them from getting on the land. Crops on light soils should still get priority ahead of heavy land. Oilseed rape comes first, then second and following cereals, and then first cereals.

With wheat prices at £80/t now a reality, there is an opportunity for growers to look again at the cost:benefit ratio for nitrogen. Nearly 4kg/ha of grain is needed to pay for every 1kg of nitrogen applied when the wheat end price stands at £80/t. This means that compared with the rates they previously applied when cereals were £100/t, growers should be cutting back by 10kg to 20kg/ha on their bought-in nitrogen for wheat crops.

"It should pay to be frugal with nitrogen in 1998 on cereal crops," says Dr Chambers.

For winter barleys, the potential reduction in nitrogen input should be about 10kg/ha, and for oilseed rape with a likely 1998 end price of £160/t growers should base their optimum rate calculations on 2kg/ha of seed yield for every kg/ha of applied N.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Monday

Look forward to the post. Please let it be my IACS cheque. The cash flow has dried up almost completely. No-one wanted my malting barley at harvest – its still in the shed awaiting an offer – so since harvest my only income has been the advanced oilseeds payment. Thank goodness for small mercies.

Very excited when postman handed me buff envelope with MAFF stamped on it. Yes, I thought. No need to leave the answerphone switched on all the time in case its the bank manager calling. Im saved, I thought, its my Arable Area Aid. Disappointed to find that it was a red reminder invoice from my ADAS adviser.

Bank manager phoned and wanted to speak to me "urgently". Maggie answered it and told him that I had gone to Germany for three days to look at a new Claas Lexion combine. Shes wicked! The bank manager said nothing for two or three minutes and then croaked something about needing to see me "very, very urgently indeed".

Tuesday

Simon Bufton-Smythe, of Knot Franke & Rightliegh, came over for a chat about the rent review next spring. He wants a 30% increase in rent. I told him there was no way I could afford any increase over the £60/acre set three years ago.

How I could afford to pay £120 for the land I hired from him last year on a two year FBT and not any increase on £60/acre for arable land of similar quality next door? he said.

I asked him where he had been for the last year, the moon? "No", he said, "I have been on secondment to our residential department in St Tropez. "Why, has something happened to commodity prices while Ive been away?" I think he was teasing me but you can never be sure with land agents.

Wednesday

One of the chemical distributors rang to let me know that the price of IPU has come down yet again – 40% over the last year. I said at least it was nice to know that it wasnt only farmers who were suffering a drop in income. He said that he only hoped that farmers dont start slapping on IPU with gay abandon just because it is cheaper. He says the price differential of alternative products could mirror the hike in the cost of the now banned mercury seed dressing (£3.50/t) and the current more environmentally friendly seed dressings (at £35/t). Ouch. Just what I wanted to hear.

Thursday

I rang a grain merchant more in hope than expectation that he might actually buy a tonne of something. I got the predictable response. Because (a) the strength of sterling (b) the poor quality of UK feed wheat (c) the lack of EU direction about malting barley restitutions (d) a record US soya harvest (e) the big compounders were covered (f) Aston Villa hadnt won a game for three weeks, he wasnt buying anything at the moment.

Friday

Ooops! The bank manager caught me on my mobile phone. I heard his voice and then pretended I couldnt hear who it was and that I was in Germany: "Hello, is that Justin MacDonald?" "Yes." "Its John Pain from the bank." "Hello, who did you say you were? I didnt know this thing worked abroad. Sorry, I am speaking to you from inside the cab of a Lexion 460. The reception is terrible. Who did you say you were? Wow, what a great looking machine this is. Hello? Hello?" "Its John Pain from the bank. Have you got your IACS cheque yet? Dont buy anything. I need to see you urge……" I pushed the stop button. What a hoot!

Bright, breezy and born to farm. Read the diary of a thirty-something with plenty to prove.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

It was the unpleasant smell of liquid sewage that forced a delegation from the local village to protest at Icknield Farm 20 years ago. Now that the product arrives in dried cake form, there is rarely a comment.

Grower Guy Hildred can detect the odour only when it is warm and damp following application to fields on the 810ha (2,000 acres) mixed farm near Wallingford in Oxford-shire. Generally it is no worse than the farms own cattle manure.

But the herd of 110 dairy cows cannot supply all the manure needed to strengthen the clay and flint soils, so Mr Hildred buys in sewage cake for a large proportion of the arable area. It is applied every three years to fields which support cereals, oilseed rape, sugar beet and pulses.

Each sewage recommendation comes with a full nutrient analysis, which enables Mr Hildred to adjust fertiliser inputs with precision. His supplier, Terra EcoSystems of Heathrow, a subsidiary of Thames Water, gives him an estimate for each field of the amount by which he can cut back on additional nitrogen, phosphate and potassium fertilisers. From that Mr Hildred calculates how much to apply in the coming growing season.

"A printout states the financial value of the major nutrients that each application of Terra cake gives, based on current fertiliser prices. Once I have adjusted them to the prices Im paying, I can work out how much Im saving over and above what I would spend on fertiliser," he explains.

Until this season, it has cost 50p/t to have Terra cake delivered and spread, and the value has been estimated at as much as four times its cost. Consequently most fields which hadnt received manure for several years received up to two applications of Terra cake. The exceptions were fields near a borehole or waterway, since that poses a risk of nitrogen leaching and possible runoff. The cake was spread on to stubble at a rate of about 16ha (40 acres) a day from a heap in the corner of each field.

It is difficult to know whether or not treatments lead to yield increases because there could have been other factors involved. The treated milling wheats had extremely good proteins, which could have been a result of the sewage or the season. But Mr Hildred is sure Terra cake was responsible for keeping his arable crops greener for longer in recent dry springs.

"My wheats were greener for at least 10 days longer than other crops in this area, and were more akin to those grown by a neighbouring pig farmer who regularly uses muck. In fields where boreholes prevented some parts being treated, you could see at harvest where the spreader had been by the colour of the crop. Sugar beet fields in particular were green on the treated side and yellow on the other."

The cake released its nutrients so well in last years warm summer that it caught Mr Hildred out more than once. Nitrogen levels in his harvested sugar beet were dangerously high because he didnt reduce his nitrogen fertiliser applications enough to allow for the 80kg/ha the cake released.

Nitrogen

"I wasnt sure there would be sufficient nitrogen early enough for the March drilled crop following an application of sewage in January, so I cut down by only 40kg/ha. As it was, I think Id have got away with 80kg/ha less, as Terra had suggested," he acknowledges.

Mr Hildred will be cutting back generally from now on, however. A recent price increase doubling the cost of the Terra cake has caused him to question its value. He will be more selective about where he uses it in future.

"There are many disadvantages to using sewage, and I can put up with them while it is priced at 50p/t but not at £1/t. And I have concerns that the risks perceived by consumers will necessitate a review of the legislation on heavy metals in soils. The limits set are arbitrary, and they differ widely from those in other countries."

Mr Hildred believes the main reasons growers dont widely use sewage are that the product doesnt always arrive at a convenient time, the loss of cropped area for stockpiling it is unacceptable, and that it necessitates ploughing. And although its smell is less of an issue than it was 20 years ago, the association will remain in peoples minds.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Better nitrogen use on the cards

WAYS of getting more out of less fertiliser at lower cost to the environment were abundant at the Fertiliser Societys annual meeting recently.

Esa Tirkonnen, of Kemira Agro, accepted there were challenges such as reducing the 20% of urea which can be lost to the atmosphere if not immediately incorporated into the soil after application, particularly on chalky soils.

Different methods of nutrient delivery, including a combination of biological and chemical processes, were being explored. Slow and controlled release fertilisers, and nitrification or urease inhibitors, could considerably reduce nitrogen losses to water and air, while increasing fertiliser efficiency.

David Powlson, of IACR-Rothamsted, agreed gaseous losses predominate but direct leaching is possible with unusually high spring rain. For every 10mm of rain in the three weeks after application, there is an additional 3% N loss.

Leaky

New decision support systems will help match fertiliser rate and crop requirement more accurately in the future said Prof Powlson. And "record growers reasoning for fertiliser application."

New crop and soil diagnostic tests will also allow more finely-tuned advice. Models could also be used to plan less leaky rotations in which crops leaving a lot of residual N are followed by a crop to use it best.

Variable fertiliser application will cut nitrogen wastage and decrease residual soil nitrate in areas of poorer crop growth, said Prof Powlson. Establishing wetland buffer zones alongside rivers and manipulating drainage by blocking drains in cracking clay soils, were just two of his tips to reduce leaching.

He slammed those growers of the 10% of winter wheat acreage still getting an unnecessary 30kgN/ha in the autumn. "This is indefensible," said Prof Powlson. "A large amount will be going – literally – down the drain."

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

ARE you spending long, tedious hours in the farm office wading through reams of paper? Do you believe there could be a better way to maintain business records, plan future cropping strategies or manage the farms accounts? If so, you are a prime candidate for computerisation.

According to Farmplans Roger da Cunha, farmers and growers who recognise that they need more information or faster answers than they are currently getting are well on the way to understanding the benefits that a computer can bring to their business.

Speaking during a series of open days held at the companys head office in Mitcheldean, Glos, Mr da Cunha said that the computer had the potential to streamline many procedures currently carried out by pen and paper.

However, he warned against over-expectations: "Anyone who thinks a computer can radically improve the success or profitability of their business should think again," he said. "Look on a computer first and foremost as a tool designed simply to ease the day to day running and management of an enterprise. It is pointless buying a computer unless you have a good idea of what you want it to do."

"Ideally, everyone buying a computer system for the first time should make a list of what they want to achieve with it," he said. "That done, it becomes far easier to advise on the most suitable solutions.

"Think of a computer in its simplest form as a filing cabinet capable of storing logically a vast amount of information in individual folders. At the touch of a few buttons, that information can be retrieved, displayed, updated, deleted, printed and used to calculate what if scenarios, all in a matter of seconds."

With an agricultural customer base of around 8,000 businesses built up over the past 25 years, Farmplan claims to have the lions share of the farm computer sector, estimated at some 14,000 installations throughout the UK.

The companys position was strengthened in 1996 with the take-over of arable software specialist, Optimix. Farmplan is now engaged upon a continuing series of open days, seminars and workshops designed to extend farmer awareness and understanding of computer technology and what it is able to achieve.

Having established the need for a computer and the immediate tasks that it will be carrying out within the farm enterprise, prospective buyers need to consider the other potential uses for the machine.

For example, although it may have been purchased initially to assist with day to day financial management, there is the opportunity to expand a computers role into crop management, produce traceability, farm mapping or the completion of IACS returns.

"Start with one topic by all means, but ensure that the computer system selected has the capacity to handle the complete needs of the business," commented Mr da Cunha.

"Think about future planned farm developments, new enterprises and other likely requirements. One area expected to see rapid expansion over the coming month is record-keeping, with particular reference to farm assurance and traceability legislation."

Setting a realistic budget is essential. "Ask for an estimate of the cost and avoid cutting corners," stressed Mr da Cunha. "As suppliers of complete systems, Farmplan is able to advise customers on the optimum computer configuration for the software programs that the machine will be running today and in the months ahead. We rarely get complaints that the computer is too slow or does not have enough storage capacity."

Both first time and experienced computer buyers need to set a sensible timescale for the installation of their new equipment, any training needs and familiarisation. Those selecting a financial package normally aim to be up and running ready for the start of their new financial year. Similarly, if the computer user is involved in farm field work, avoid having a new system installed during the peak harvest or cultivation periods.

In common with most computer suppliers, Farmplan provides comprehensive telephone support both for its hardware and software, dealing with 55,000 calls last year. Response time on software program enquiries was less than 30 seconds during the peak period from January to March, falling to half that figure in the other nine months.

The companys support fee, paid in advance, covers unlimited help line use, updates to installed software and nation-wide workshops for a period of 16 months. Cost is less than £300 on an average computer package costing between £3,000 and £3,500.

Before finally settling on a supplier, Mr da Cunha recommends that farmers obtain references from existing users. "Check out also the firms understanding of your business," he said.

"Farmplan has a major advantage in that the company is owned and run by working farmers. More than 90% of our 62 employees have an agricultural qualification or background which means we can talk to the novice or experienced computer user in their own language.

"Computer jargon is all very well for the informed, but it is of little use to those who simply need to know the ways that a particular machine or software program can help them manage and run their business and make informed decisions."

&#8226 Farmplan provides the support service for Farmers Weekly Interac-tive, the electronic news and information service developed for the Internet by Farmers Weekly and Crops, and available to all equipped with a computer, modem and telephone line. http://www.fwi.co.uk

Its not what a computer can do for you, but what you want it to do. Mike Bird weighs up key buying decisions.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998


&#8226 Summer water for new licences for surface or borehole abstraction is in woefully short supply in most places. But its always worth questioning this assumption with the local EA office before you invest too much time or money pursuing the various options.

&#8226 In most cases a quick verbal reply is given on the likelihood of a successful application. Otherwise, the only real alternative is a reservoir to be filled over the winter, usually from a surface source.

&#8226 Then apply in writing for a winter abstraction licence, or a variation on an existing licence, saying what crops you intend to irrigate and the annual requirement.

&#8226 The farms need for water should be based on a dry but not over dry irrigation season. Traditionally, the 15th highest demand year in 20 is taken as the norm. This is sensible from an investment point of view.

&#8226 Rough cost estimates for a reservoir holding 10m to 12m gal, allow £2,500 to £3,000/m gal if its clay lined, or about £7,000/m gal with a synthetic liner.

&#8226 More growers are being asked to submit an environmental report with their application. This can be anything from two to 60 pages, to show that this amount of water is available without denigrating the supply to other irrigators and without undue effects on local habitats.

&#8226 The EA can provide a list of consultants who can prepare reports on your behalf. Where for example, flow is to monitored over the course of a winter, it can take up to six months to complete the necessary field work and produce the final report. The cost can be substantial – earmark several thousand pounds.

&#8226 The severity of flow-related clauses or conditions in the licence will depend on the extent of the predicted environment effect. If the effect is unacceptable, the application could be refused.

&#8226 If you plan to abstract water from a surface source during the winter months you may also need Land Drainage Consent, especially if a side weir, for instance, alters the bank.

&#8226 Initial soil coring or digs will assess availability, suitability and depth of clay, if the reservoir is to be clay lined. Have an infiltration test made on the clay lining soil too.

&#8226 Begin enquiries about the electricity supply if this will be a power source, as negotiations and installation can be time consuming. There could be a cost here too. The final cost is often negotiable to a degree.

&#8226 If youre designing an irrigation scheme from scratch, you need to set labour and energy costs against the capital cost of each alternative, as well as considering their relative efficiency.

&#8226 Dont skimp on the size or length of the underground mains or the number of hydrants – they may be in place for half a century. Try, where practical, to install a ring main. This will increase the flow to the irrigators and decrease the energy costs. An energy efficient pump with good controls is a good investment.

&#8226 Then fully cost out the likely total investment – reservoir, pumps, mains and irrigators – to check that the investment is sound when set against the value of increased yields and improved quality. Where crop values vary year on year, use contract prices as a guide.

&#8226 Develop the design of the reservoir and consult the local planners, usually by submitting a planning notification. These are usually accepted subject to certain conservation measures such as a tree planting.

&#8226 Plan to dig the reservoir in late summer/early autumn rather than too late into October or November when the weather may close in. Keep in touch with the EA. Some people start to build their reservoir before the licence is actually in their hands, but of course this is at their own risk.

&#8226 When the licence does comes through, fill the reservoir ready to go next summer. As a guide, from start to finish the consultation period is unlikely to take less than nine months.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998


Grain options

These are split into calls and puts, each a mirror image of the other. A put option is buying the right to sell grain at a certain price, at a certain time. A call option is buying the right to buy grain at a certain price and time. Having an option is just what it implies; there is no obligation involved to either buy or sell grain – just the right to do so if the grower wishes.

Both these instruments can be manipulated to reduce risk, but like an insurance premium, they have a cost attached.

The price depends on the strike price chosen, and how different it is from market predictions, and how far ahead the option goes; expect to pay about £2 to £2.50/t for three months, £3.25 to £3.50 for six months. Charges have to be paid upfront, when taking out options.

Anyone can deal in options – you dont necessarily need a physical tonnage of grain. Dealing can be done through a bank or broker.

Currency options

Possibly for those with a better understanding of the market; on sale from bankers or brokers. Taking out a currency option provides insurance against the movement of sterling against the pound. But given that the exchange rate has a big impact on grain markets, this could become a useful tool for the grower, as well as for the merchant grain traders. Current cost is 2% for a 6 month to 9 month sterling call, or about 3.25% for a sterling put.

Guaranteed minimum price contracts

Offered through the major merchants, who play the futures and options markets on the growers behalf. Setting a guaranteed minimum price offers insurance against a falling market – but at a price.

These contracts would tend to be expensive – typically double what might be paid doing the same deal through a broker, though payment will be deducted from grain returns and is not paid up front. There is usually a minimum tonnage requirement. Contracts have the flexibility to offer extra for region, quality and variety, and the charge for the option.

Co-op/pool marketing

Again, an easy strategy for growers. Grain goes into a pool, and the manager does the trading, using options and the futures market on members behalf, in order to generate the highest returns.

Other benefits are access to quality storage facilities, which meet assurance standards, and the ability to blend different quality grades – which could boost returns.

Cost: membership fee, plus marketing charge of about £1.75/t. Storage may be extra. Final returns will depend on the skill of the trading manager. Some co-ops require a commitment of all grain produced. Normally, no insurance against falling prices.

Spot and forward sales to trade

The traditional way of marketing grain. A cheap solution, but becoming more risky due to increasing volatility. And theres no guarantee of benefit from a rise in the market.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

The advantages of using liquid and solid fertiliser flow both ways as two farmers demonstrate.

NO TWO farms are completely alike, and neither are any two farmers. So it is hardly surprising that equally convincing answers can be found in favour of using liquid or solid fertiliser.

In Northamptonshire, Colin Wakelin and his sons Duncan and Clive use solid fertiliser on 400ha (1,000acres) at Hill Farm, Blisworth. At Catton Hall, Alrewas, Derbyshire, Robin Nielson lists a number of advantages for liquids.

The Wakelins grow 200ha (500 acres) of first wheats for milling and the same for break crops – peas, beans, linseed and forage maize, which is sold to neighbouring livestock farmers clamps.

"We are equipped to use solid fertilisers and get very good results from them. I see no reason to switch," says Duncan. "I would be concerned that if we did use liquids we might risk tying up the sprayer when it should be applying chemicals."

They aim to apply fertiliser accurately, combining their own experience and science to determine rates and timing. They follow ICM principles, Colin being a LEAF supporter and Duncan having completed a BASIS/ICM training course.

Soil testing is conducted regularly to maintain nutrient reserves across the range of soils. Phosphate and potash are applied to maintain indices at around 2. Spring N applications are assessed on a field-by-field basis using Hydro Agris Extran Plan.

"We dont just look at one years crop. We assess soil types, cropping history and other relevant factors, and combine this information with our own experience. It is all important in getting the seasons applications right," said Colin.

Duncan adds: "We make our main fertiliser decisions in February. The first N application – usually one bag/acre – goes on when growth starts." In relatively cold and exposed corner of Northants, it is usually early March.

"The main dressing (three bags/acre) is applied at GS 30-31, with the final ear dressing (one bag/acre) when the flag leaf is out. The exact rate of the final dressing may be changed according to the crops yield and quality potential."

They have also been field testing Hydros N-Tester, a hand-held meter which measures leaf chlorophyll to help fine tune that final fertiliser applications.

A new spreader, equipped with computerised application rate controller and tilting mechanism to avoid spreading hedge bottoms and water courses, ensures further accuracy. Colin is a long-standing fan of Hydros Extran: "We have used it for years. We believe it spreads best because of the consistent size range of granules."

LIQUID LESSONS

AT CATTON HALL Robin Nielson has used liquid fertilisers on 650ha (1,600 acres) since the late 1980s. Half the acreage is down to winter crops (wheat, barley and rape) and the remainder to grass.

The opportunity to re-assess operations arose when his fertiliser spreader needed replacing: "We examined the pros and cons of changing. One major bonus was that we could avoid buying a new spreader and make more use of the sprayer."

They negotiated with Hydro Chafer – their liquid fertiliser supplier – over hiring storage tanks, and effectively made the switch with no capital outlay at all.

Other practical benefits were soon apparent, such as handling time. "With solid products, one man moved them to the field, and another one spread them. Now it is a one-man operation," says Mr Nielson. A major advantage on an enterprise employing 2.5 people.

They do not need to be present when deliveries are made: "We order as we need, and it is delivered straight to the storage tanks within 48 hours – quicker if we require it urgently."

Mr Nielson also appreciates the range of formulations available, and the accuracy achievable with liquids. "Virtually any formulation can be supplied. Typically we apply an autumn dressing of 4:12:12 or near equivalent on cereals and a 9:11:11 on rape, with three dressings of straight N in the spring.

"We apply sulphur across the board now. Grassland receives a compound first and straight nitrogen thereafter. Silage ground gets a 20:0:10 between cuts.

"Using the sprayer to apply fertiliser ensures great accuracy. In particular we do not get any over-lapping; we can vary application rates as we need and can avoid the risk of spreading fertiliser into hedge bottoms."

They use a 20m system and can cover up to 25 acres/hour (200-250 acres/10 hour day) which allows them to cover the whole farm quickly, and avoids clashes between fertiliser application and spraying: "We have the potential to combine operations in some situations," he says.

They are about to replace their existing Hardi sprayer with a new Chafer E Series, which he believes will be better suited to applying liquid fertilisers because it is a genuinely dual-purpose machine.

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17 January 1998

What you buy is crucial for even and accurate fertiliser application, reports Dick Palmer.

BARGAIN fertilisers may be flavour of the month, but poor spreading quality can result in significant yield reductions.

Only when nitrogen application rates vary by 20% above or below optimum are visible differences apparent in a cereal crop; so any financial savings made by choosing a cheaper fertiliser may be wiped out by uneven distribution in the field, without even noticing.

To help UK growers get the best possible results from poorer quality fertilisers, Amazone, the German spreader manufacturers have set up a fertiliser testing laboratory at Harworth, near Doncaster. Using only a 3-4kg fertiliser sample, a range of tests are carried out to establish:

&#8226 Size distribution

&#8226 Bulk density

&#8226 Pure density

&#8226 Flow rate

&#8226 Angle of throw

Then accurate vane settings can be calculated.

"Imported prilled urea from Europe and the former Eastern block countries presents the biggest problem", says Amazones Nigel Foster. "With over 600 fertiliser products available in the UK market, there is clearly a limit to the number of fertilisers and spreader settings that can be included in the calibration charts."

During the past 15 years, over 14,000 fertiliser samples have been tested at Amazones German headquarters and optimum spreader settings determined. Fertiliser manufacturers send batch samples of each product for testing and calibration information for consistent quality materials can then be included in the machine setting charts. Some UK fertiliser manufacturers send samples annually to check for consistency.

"Back in the UK we needed a quick, convenient test to provide accurate setting information for imported materials in particular," continues Mr Foster.

UK lab test results are compared against the database of 14,000 records compiled at the test hall in Germany, to arrive at a customised vane setting to suit the material. A combination of 300 settings are possible on the Tele-set discs used by Amazone spreaders.

On-farm tray testing is another option, but limited by seasonality and weather. "The lab test can be carried out anytime and at a cost of £75", explains Mr Foster. "With the cost of fertiliser coupled with the possibility of yield loss, its a small price to pay," he believes.

Lab-testing starts with a sieve test to determine granule or prill size and distribution range. "In a quality UK ammonium nitrate product we would expect to see 60-70% of the prills at the largest size with the remaining 40% within a millimetre either way", says Mr Foster.

Imported products not as well sieved and produced in plants where quality control is less rigorous may have only 25% at target size with the rest varying from dust to 5mm in diameter."

A voluntary quality scheme promoted by the Fertiliser Manufacturers Association (FMA) is already in place. The SP rating refers to evenness of prill size, SP5 being the most consistent and SP1 the least consistent.

"Clearly a high SP rating is important for accurate spreading but bulk density can be just as important," continues Mr Foster.

To rely on consistency of size alone does not allow for the density of the product; poor quality prills are often hollow leading to shattering, particularly with machines working at high disc speeds.

So, the next test is bulk density – a litre container is filled and weighed. Ammonium nitrate is generally around 0.98kg/litre but urea is 25% lighter, usually 0.75kg/litre, so it is always going to be harder to spread particularly at wider tramline widths and in windy conditions.

Pure density is also determined by measuring the core of a sample compressed to 180bar pressure inside a steel cylinder.

Flow rate is checked by weighing how much material has fallen through a 25mm shutter in 12 seconds. Course materials such as P & K flow more slowly than a prill.

The final test simulates the behaviour of the material when spread to measure angle of throw. Beneath a conventional shutter mechanism is a disc revolving at around 750rpm, the standard Amazone disc speed. Around the disc are 29 compartments; 1.5kg of fertiliser is released onto the disc and the contents of each department weighed.

Results from all the tests are recorded on computer and compared against the 14,000 known samples for which accurate spreader settings have already been determined at the factory.

Optimum spreader settings determined in the lab cannot alone guarantee perfect spreading in practice. Clearly, operators must maintain constant PTO speed to give the required 720 rpm disc speed. Forward speed must be maintained (unless electronic monitoring is fitted) to ensure even application. Disc height above the ground and machine condition, especially discs and vanes are also crucial.

Currently 75% of the tests carried out at Doncaster are sent in by farmers, the remainder by manufacturers and merchants. "With more growers expected to go down the cheaper fertiliser route we are looking forward to an increased demand for our testing services", says Mr Foster. For less than the price of a tonne of fertiliser, growers can spread any fertiliser with confidence, he adds.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

A leaking roof dampens the post-Christmas spirit of Hants grower, James Dockray.

November movement of grain rolled into December and was finally completed just before Christmas. Out of 1,000t of Optic and Chariot, 825t made malting. The remaining 175t was rejected for skinned grains and ended up in the feed bin.

We also moved 900t of Brigadier wheat and apart from a claim of £2/t for 15.4% moisture on one load, all went well. We did, however, have to treat 250t for flour mite before movement at a cost of £1.50/t. This was spotted in pre-movement sampling and luckily was dealt with in situ by a local pest control specialist.

This infestation started from a tiny hole in the grain store roof resulting in damp and mild conditions which were ideal for the mite to spread, although luckily not throughout the whole store. This is the first problem of this kind in 18 years at Redenham. Roof repairs are now impending!

Autumn-sown cereals look almost too well. All varieties of winter barley are showing quite high levels of net blotch which is I suppose to be expected after the very wet November and December. Pipkin and Maris Otter also have a trace of mildew. No treatment is planned, even if we could travel.

Early-sown wheats, mainly Riband and Consort, are plenty thick enough. Having reduced the seed rates some plants already have four strong tillers. Unless we have a prolonged cold spell to slow them down, they will not need too much early nitrogen.

December saw the addition of a further 320ha (800 acres) of arable crops, an FBT on a very well managed farm. Cropping here is Fanfare and Regina barley, Consort, Riband and Soisson wheat and Libravo and Apex rape. A further 72ha (180 acres) of Optic spring barley is planned. This will be farmed in conjunction with Fox Farm.

I sold some wheat on an option contract for November 1998 at a price of £80/t. We have one further opportunity to call the price if the market rises. The cost of the option was £4/t, so if we can call the price at close to the top of the market, whenever that will be, we will only be £4 adrift.

We have had another look at the Internet and decided again that it is still "not for us". I do not wish to spend hours "surfing the web" and take the view "watch the crops, not the computer".

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Plant height has been the long and short of lodging control for many years. But weight is just as crucial, writes Tia Rund.

THOSE who glumly surveyed their laid crops last summer may have been reminded of those TV images of woodland laid waste in the wake of the 1987 gales.

In fact, a scheme originally designed to evaluate the windthrow of trees is now, along with fundamental engineering principles, being applied to the wheat plant. And its throwing up some vital clues as to why plant growth regulators sometimes fall down when it comes to keeping crops standing.

The back to basics approach adopted by the HGCA-funded Lodging Project, headed by John Spink of ADAS Rosemaund, was to calculate the actual forces involved in the lodging process.

Three distinct factors within the plant have been found to influence its chances of lodging, says Mr Spink:

&#8226 how much leverage the aerial parts exert on the base of the plant

&#8226 stem strength

&#8226 anchorage

In simple terms, where leverage force exerted by one shoot is greater than the strength of its stem, the stem can be expected to buckle. And where the leverage from all the shoots together exceeds anchorage strength, expect root lodging.

The distinction between the two types of failure is vital, he adds, as different control methods are likely to be appropriate for each, but most current guidelines dont take account of it. Particularly its important to acknowledge that anchorage strength is a critical element of lodging.

Novartis, makers of trinexapac-ethyl (Moddus) has been quick to pick up on the project and has been testing some of the findings itself. Andrew Cottrell took over responsibility for the product last February with the Ciba/Sandoz merger.

"Traditionally the role of PGRs has been to shorten crops in an attempt to reduce the pressure of lodging. Centre of gravity is certainly a key controlling influence, but weve concentrated on height and forgotten about the weight component." And weight distribution within the wheat plant can be quite different, he remarks.

But, even though trials show poor correlation for wheat between height reduction and good lodging control, until now thats where the interest has stopped. Theories on rooting and stem strength have been vague and without much focus, adds Mr Cottrell. "But within those areas the HGCA project has defined particular characteristics that we can identify and home in on."

Stem strength

For instance, almost all the variation in stem strength is determined by stem diameter and its thickness. The stocky nature of modern wheat varieties is why most failure now occurs at the root, believes Mr Cottrell. The dwarfing gene introduced in the early 1980s strengthened the stems, but not the roots.

The structure of the crown root system is the main factor affecting anchorage strength, principally their length and the angle of their spread. To a lesser degree how many and how strong they are individually.

Since these anti-lodging factors – root development, stem thickness and so on – are the very same that Moddus is claimed to promote over and above less sophisticated growth regulators, Novartis is naturally excited by the findings of ADAS and the Universities of Nottingham and Manchester.

Now, in the light of these, it is undertaking its own research specifically to refine treatment guidelines. Analysis of company trials last season indicates that its possible to target the Moddus mix, half rate Moddus plus half rate chlormequat, which is its standard recommendation. Applying the mix during the second half of tillering will increase rooting. The effect on stem base strength comes later – at stem extension, explains Mr Cottrell (see diagram).

In other words it should be possible to compensate for weaknesses in the crops physical structure. Some varieties, such as Reaper, need help in both departments and a split application to give a dual attack on rooting and stem strength may be justified, says Mr Cottrell.

Targeting growth regulators by variety is a logical extension identified by both Novartis and John Spink. Although the HGCA lodging project didnt include varietal investigation as such, it did conclude that varieties were inclined to lodge because of either poor anchorage or weak stems or high leverage forces.

Novartis have gone further and conducted research to determine the main structural weaknesses of individual varieties. It is at an early stage, but has already generated some interesting findings.

Mr Cottrell cites Reaper as an example. In the research the variety revealed both a weak stem base and poor rooting structure. Decisions on lodging control with this information is clear: "A growth regulator during tillering to shore up rooting anchorage and another at stem extension to strengthen the straw."

Research

The Novartis research is continuing and Mr Cottrell hopes that in time they will have a much better understanding of the main structural weaknesses of individual varieties.

As well as variety choice, factors such as sowing date, seed and nitrogen rates can cause variations in crop structure which influence lodging as strongly as the weather or soil type.

And, superimposed on any new recommendations will always be the constraints imposed by any particular season. Last year, for instance, lush growth promoted by early season rainfall and mild temperatures couldnt be supported by the sparse rainfall that followed in March and April.

Soil is as critical as the roots in determining anchorage, its strength increasing with clay content and the degree of consolidation adds Mr Spink. "If it looks in spring as though plant population is too high or the crown root system isnt well enough developed, then spring rolling can be as beneficial as any PGR.

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17 January 1998

The Truecraft fully programmable bird scarer incorporates touch pad control to set number of detonations and the time span between them. Fitted with a photocell for dawn to dusk operation, it also has the facility to delay operation by up to 5 hours, which will help to avoid early morning and late evening public disturbance. It costs £412. Spaldings, Sadler Rd, Lincoln LN6 3XJ (01522 500600).

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Charting a safe course through todays roller coaster grain markets is a tough task. Our expert explains how options can help, Gilly Johnson listens in.

IM WORRIED admits grower Guy Hemsley. "These days theres no way of telling which way the market will go – how can I operate a sensible marketing strategy?"

Sounds familiar? This dilemma has become more acute now that wheat prices tend to behave unpredictably. Growers can no longer rely on the traditional variation in price through the year, says our trading troubleshooter, Alastair Dickie.

Grain trading has become more complex, and more dangerous. Theres a host of factors affecting prices – including movements in sterling, and the politics of world trade. Prices are see-sawing at an alarming rate.

What Mr Hemsley needs, suggests Mr Dickie, is a way of insuring his returns against risk. And that means using marketing tools such as options. The theory is deceptively simple – you pay a premium, and in return you lock into a range of strategies, which suit your business best. These might include a guaranteed minimum price, or fixed price, with various schemes for benefiting if prices should rise, rather than fall.

But the practice is more complicated than the theory. And this is why many growers are choosing to let their grain merchants play the markets for them. All the major players now offer a range of minimum price contracts, which will use options and futures indirectly. But for growers, it can be an expensive way of insuring against risk, suggests Mr Dickie.

More cost-effective is to do it yourself, via a broker. But without a background in trading, its easy to be bamboozled by market jargon. And Mr Hemsley is first and foremost a producer – not a commodity trader.

Mr Dickie is one of a growing band of marketing consultants, advising farming companies on risk management. Demand for such services is expanding as growers are coming to realise that a lack of marketing expertise is a serious handicap in volatile conditions.

"Primarily Mr Hemsley needs to decide what price he needs for his wheat, in order to protect his business from collapse during 1998, and then lock prices into that position," suggests Mr Dickie.

Merchants

But rather than use a merchant as an intermediary, he recommends taking the plunge and sorting out his own option cover. That involves a call to LIFFE – the London International Financial Futures and options Exchange – on 0171 623 0444, and asking for a list of brokers from the publications department. Mr Hemsley can then ring round and find one willing to act on his behalf.

"By doing it himself through a broker, Mr Hemsley is not dependent on the goodwill of any merchant. Having an option doesnt have to affect how you physically sell wheat, or your relationship with local merchants. Grain can still be sold normally onto the market, to whoever, and whenever you like. Options are a financial tool, like insurance cover."

With limited storage on the farm, options could prove a valuable way of linking into possible future profit on rising markets, without having to physically keep grain, he points out.

Mr Dickie suggests two different strategies for Mr Hemsley:

1Disaster insurance strategy – a longer-term answer to protect the business from catastrophic market falls following harvest 1998. The plan is to lock wheat for movement November 1998 into a guaranteed minimum price that will be enough to ensure the survival of the business – but allows the opportunity to benefit should prices rise.

"For the price of a modest fee, Mr Hemsley will know that the world cant collapse – but he might be slightly worse off than he is today."

Mr Dickie goes through the figures. First, growers must work out what the regional price factor is – the difference between farm gate sales and average spot prices. For Mr Hemsley, this regional discount is about £3.

Secondly, a price/tonne is decided on which is appropriate for the business, and the month in which he wants to sell the grain. For 1998, say this is £77 ex-farm, which would mean an £80/t strike price, for November 1998, when the £3/t regional factor is included. This sits comfortably with current November 1998 futures at £86/t (£83/t ex-farm).

Third, Mr Hemsley needs to take out a put option – one which gives him the right, but not the obligation, to sell at the strike price during that month. So if prices move higher, Mr Hemsley can ignore the option. If they move lower, he physically sells at that lower price – but makes up the difference by exercising his right to sell at the higher price, by cashing in the option.

Selling grain

Selling the grain can proceed as normal – the merchant doesnt need to know anything about Mr Hemsleys option. The mechanics of exercising the right to sell are simpler than they sound – all thats involved is a call to Mr Hemsleys broker, who will then do the city trading and post on a cheque for the difference between the option and the physical market.

The cost of taking out a put option will depend on the price being insured. The higher the guaranteed minimum, the higher the price. For this example, Mr Hemsley would expect to pay £2.75/t, suggests Mr Dickie. And its a payment that has to be made upfront to the broker at the time the option is taken out.

That would have effectively locked Mr Hemsleys crop into a minimum price of £74.25. This is the November 1998 £80 strike price, less £3 for the ex-farm discount, less the cost of the put option (£2.75). So if the market falls, he is protected by the option. If the November price rises above £82.75 (£80/t plus £2.75 to cover the cost of the option) he can ignore the option and sell to his local merchant as per usual, at a profit.

If Mr Hemsley does not use a put option, and instead sells forward on the November 1998 spot market at £80/t (£77/t ex-farm), he would make more profit – but could not benefit from any upturn in prices. "Options are a defensive tool and are there to protect the business from the worst case scenario," says Mr Dickie.

Choosing a higher strike price of say, £86/t would be more expensive, at about £4.25/t, but it would raise Mr Hemsleys guaranteed minimum price to £78.75/t. However, this would leave less scope to take advantage of rising prices. Only if the market went to £93.25/t would it be worth abandoning the option to chase a higher return.

2A more tactical, less cautious strategy – for wheat now in store for movement March 1998. This is cheaper for Mr Hemsley, because it is short term protection, using prices not too far distant from todays market. It gives him a guarantee against a falling market, but also allows him to benefit from an upturn.

This is how it works. With current futures for March at £84.50 (£81.50/t ex-farm), a put option of £82/t would be appropriate. That gives Mr Hemsley the right – but not the obligation – to sell wheat in March at £82/t, and it costs about £1.50/t.

It puts a guaranteed floor on the wheat of £77.50/t (£82 less the £3 regional discount and £1.50 charge for the option). If prices rise above £82/t for March, Mr Hemsley waives his right to sell at £82/t, and pockets the difference, after deducting the £1.50 option charge.

Mr Hemsley is also free to sell grain at any time if prices are attractive enough between now and March 1998. The put option remains an appreciating asset until it expires. "Remember, the marketing instrument of an option is totally separate from the physical trading of the wheat," says Mr Dickie.

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17 January 1998

NEW information on pesticides residues has led to the suspension of phorates use on both carrots and parsnips.

Food Safety Minister Jeff Rooker took the decision after the advisory committee on pesticides (ACP) had examined the residue data showing single carrots with higher residues of phorate than had previously been detected by MAFF.

Despite the low risk to consumers, it was felt safety margins were being eroded by the high residues. Other crop approvals for Phorate 10G and MTM Phorate, the only two formulations with recommendations for carrots and parsnips, are unaffected by the suspension which applies only to these two root crops.

THE Government has decided to support a backbench parliamentary bill which will allow the publication of additional scientific data on the human and environmental safety of pesticide chemicals.

The bill, put forward by MP Ben Bradshaw, has already had a second reading. If finally approved by both Houses of Parliament it will permit the Government to publish safety information on pesticides first approved before 1986.

Present legislation only allows such openness on products evaluated after then.

Enforcement officers will also have their powers strengthened under the bills provisions, making it possible for them to take photographs of suspected breaches of pesticide use regulations.

KEY barley diseases are among the principal targets for Unix, the newly-approved Novartis fungicide, which also tackles eyespot and mildew in wheat.

Based on cyprodinil – a new chemical group – Unix has a broad-spectrum action on rhynchosporium, net blotch, mildew and eyespot in barley. It is formulated as a water dispersible granule, available in 2kg bags.

A NEW granular formulation of the insecticide deltamethrin is said to be safer to handle and more environmentally-friendly.

Pearl Micro is based on polymer-coated, water emulsifiable granules which come in 200g containers to treat 2.5ha (6 acres) for barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) control. There is less risk of operator contact with the granule than with an equivalent emulsifiable concentrate formulation.

Around 90% less solvent is applied per hectare using this new formulation, according to AgrEvo, which has brought it out for use in cereals, oilseed rape, brassicas, peas and beans. The company also hopes to obtain off-label approvals on a range of minor crops.

OUT go Cambridge Blue, Moss Green and others. In comes a simpler standard range of colours for the 1998 range of Lurmark sprayer nozzles.

The changes come from the decision by Lurmark, of Longstanton, near Cambridge, to adopt the ISO colour standard for its nozzles which remain the same specification in every other respect. To make the colour changeover simpler for nozzle users, a cross-reference chart comparing old colours with the new is available from the Sales and Marketing Department at Lurmark on 01954-260097.

A NUMBER of approvals for insecticides have been revoked with immediate effect for their use on beetroot, parsnip, swede, turnip, and sweetcorn.

Nine products are involved, including various formulations of chlorpyrifos, permethrin and cypermethrin. Their use on these particular crops is no longer supported by the manufacturers but other approvals are unaffected.

A FURTHER 20 pesticides have been added to the list of those which should be subject to a 6m buffer zone near surface waters or ditches.

They include a number of herbicide and insecticide products, including newly introduced formulations of some familiar pesticides. Full details of restricted products can be found in the August and November 1997 issues of the Pesticides Register, available from Stationery Office Bookshops, or by telephone on 0171-873-9090 at £6.25 for single issues.

A FURTHER three adjuvants have been authorised for use with agricultural pesticides. They are Intracrops Minstrel, Schooner from Service Chemicals, and Stefes Titania from Stefes Plant Protection. A full list of authorised adjuvants for use in the UK was published in the April 1997 issue of the Pesticides Register.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Completion of a winter storage reservoir has brought floods of relief on one East Anglian farm, writes Tia Rund.

THE warning notices are already up. Groundwater levels are so low in south east England that water supplies next year will be at risk if the winter carries on being drier than average.

So, farming light West Suffolk heathland, the Thornalley family is still wallowing in the luxury of its new water supply.

The idea of building a reservoir has hovered over Lee Farm, Freckenham for years. It was considered first of all back in 1989 at a time when river abstractions were becoming restricted but, with no convenient source of clay, was dismissed on the grounds of expense. Instead the river licence was transferred to two boreholes.

But when restrictions were applied to aquifer water too, the Thornalleys realised that, far from not being able to afford a reservoir, they couldnt be without one.

Water has always been the limiting factor here. But now, with a dependable source of water, the farm is in a far better position to tempt vegetable producers to rent a proportion of its 550ha (1,375 acres). Its sandy loam soils – productive, disease free, easy to work and harvest – are ideal for root crops in particular.

Prospective tenants are prepared to pay premium rent for virgin land where the alternative is a costly nematicide application before carrots or potatoes, for instance. But these crops demand water.

Even for sugar beet, all 140ha (350 acres) of it, irrigation can mean the difference between having a crop and not having a crop in an extreme year, explains Edward Thornalley.

The decision to build a reservoir came to a head in 1995, when restrictions were first applied to the 59,100cu m licence covering the two boreholes.

But, even without restrictions, the borehole licensed quantity wasnt enough and, with borehole water in the area fully allocated, there was no possibility of increasing it. Richard Thornalley, son Edward and nephew Jonathon turned for guidance to Trevor Flatman. He had laid the underground mains on the farm 15 years before and in the meantime the family had grown to admire his practical approach.

Meanwhile ADAS mechanisation specialist John Bailey took on the paperwork. In this case it was no mean task. Before granting a winter abstraction licence, the Environment Agency (EA) wanted to see an environmental report. It needed to be sure that the volume of water to be stored was justified and that it could be drawn from the Lee Brook without compromising supply to other abstracters and without damaging the environment.

Although the EA does provide a lot of the data, the onus to compile this report now rests with the applicant. "But," says Jonathon, "I dont think we could have attempted it on our own." Mr Bailey was the pivot point, co-ordinating contributions .

His advice was to construct not one, but two, reservoirs together holding 90,900cu m. This approach saved the professional fees of an engineer and an annual inspection required under the Reservoirs Act where more than 25,000cu m is held above ground level.

Sadly, despite double-checking the farms soil substrata, no source of clay could be found. The price of the alternative, a synthetic liner, meant settling for a smaller overall capacity. In an ideal world, the Thornalleys would like double the quantity of storage.

From the decision to go ahead in January 1996 to the point when the reservoirs were ready to be filled, it took about 11 months.

But already its proved its worth. In 1997 a 30% reduction – the highest yet – was applied to summer abstractions. In its first year the reservoir has been a lifeline of freedom from those restrictions.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

A group of independent crop consultants and a team from Novartis have picked up the Crops gauntlet to produce the most profitable crop of wheat in four different rotations. Debbie Beaton follows their decisions on herbicides.

PRUDENT spending is the key to profit these days. So our two teams are going to do just that – produce the most profitable wheat at the least cost. And when it comes to tweaking todays crop protection armoury for the best possible result, who better than those who manufacture the products in the first place and those who are constantly using them across many and varied soil types to provide the clues?

Thats the challenge for the team from Novartis and the Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC). Each is managing a tramline width in four different rotations; wheat after set-aside, second wheat, third wheat and after beans.

Both teams are attempting to be as frugal as good sense allows with the ultimate how low can we go challenge of less than £175/ha (£70/acre) on variable inputs for the first wheat following beans rotation.

"We felt this was too unrealistic a budget to attempt in the other rotations," explains Jamie Mackay of the consultants team. "But we will temper our treatments where possible, without jeopardising yield and quality."

Both teams started with variable costings of £84.20/ha which includes drilling Beret-treated Reaper at 200kg/ha on 23 September and a basal fertiliser treatment.

The consultants were the first to take action on their plots with herbicides going on in the second week of November. They used their imagination to come up with a different herbicide strategy for each rotation.

The third wheat received Jolt (pendimethalin) and IPU. "Its a robust combination, which should give good blackgrass, mayweed and chickweed control as well as suppressing cleavers and speedwell. But it is not as cheap as some, so we hope to avoid a follow-up treatment," explains Peter Taylor, AICC chairman.

A favourite low-cost blackgrass strategy is IPU and trifluralin. So the consultants used it on wheat after beans. Duplosan was also added to keep the volunteer beans at bay. A site visit in early December confirmed that the latter was working well, with the bean plants already visibly twisted.

For the second wheat plot, the consultants chose Hawk (clodinafop-propargyl), IPU and oil: "A combination that proved to be a blinder when trifluralin and IPU failed a few years ago on one of my farms," remarks Mr Mackay. There was no crop damage from the application.

Finally, the Rolls-Royce treatment on Reaper after set-aside: "Two-thirds Wildcat, half-rate Stomp and oil is a first class combination for sensitive blackgrass, which we have been assured is here at Elmdon," remarks Mr Mackay. "It has come tops in some trials for several years in this area and as a result is being tested more widely this autumn for its effectiveness against blackgrass and cleavers."

"We delayed the Wildcat mix until early December to give better contact action on the emerging blackgrass. Oil, of course, helps to enhance the fenoxaprop component," explains Caroline Hayes from the consultants team.

"This type of soil also carries a high burden of cleavers and speedwells, which is why pendimethalin is a useful partner mix – and it is reasonably persistent," she continues.

For all four plots, the consultants hope to avoid any overspraying and into the New Year that expectation looks likely.

An insecticide was the only other treatment by the consultants: "It was a warm September and there were masses of aphids about in wheat stubbles, so we thought it prudent to pop cypermethrin into the herbicide mix," remarks David Nichols.

Swimming against the tide is how Novartis marketing manager, Andy Watt, describes his teams approach: "We decided to hold off applying any herbicide until the blackgrass was at 2-3 leaves because that is the best timing for the most reliable result from Hawk.

And luckily for them, they missed the rains that were to follow which would have prevented any spray applications. It is easier to hang back when there are only four tramlines to spray, and not a whole farm, admits Mr Watt. "However, it is possible with good tackle and determination."

How long would they have waited for the ideal blackgrass growth stage? "We had until the end of this month to play with," he replies.

Hawk, as you might expect, runs through the Novartis weed control strategy, mixed with IPU and oil to widen control to broad-leaved weeds on all four rotational situations. In an attempt to cut costs on the low-budget plot they reduced Hawk to 1.6 litres/ha on Reaper after beans.

Aphids were not deemed to be a major problem by the Novartis team, except on the plot following beans where a rather more expensive insecticide than cypermethrin was applied.

Spending so far for both teams, however, is fairly even with the consultants pushing the boat out on the Wildcat/Stomp/oil mix after set-aside.

Time will tell whether the agchem team has been too conservative on costs, or the consultants team too liberal. Find out in our next installment in March.

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Move a days agchem supply behind the sprayer with the Trailasafe solid steel, lockable trailer. Holding about a tonne of powder, or 400 litres of liquid, the sealed unit is equipped with a ball hitch drawbar and a screw type stand or jockey wheel. Trailing arm suspension, overrun brakes, 13" wheels, lighting bar plus connections complete the specification, at a price of £1,600. Nicholson Machinery, 1 Westgate Street, Southery, Downham Market PE38 0PA (01366 377458).

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Higher lift capacities, low emission engines, smoother transmissions and more comfortable, modern cabs are the claims for the 4050 Series telescopic handlers. The 100hp 4450 pictured will lift up to 2.7t: a larger lift ram on the 4550 increases its capacity to 3t. Direct linkage boom control models are £30,535 and £33,320 for the 4450 and 4550 respectively. Optional four function hydraulic joystick control adds just over £1,000. Prices of 4350 models not yet announced. John Deere, Langar, Nottingham NG13 9HT (01949 860491).

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Archive Article: 1998/01/17

17 January 1998

Bag lifters make filling the fertiliser spreader a one man job. A low price alternative to expensive handlers, lifters to complement the Sulky range with capacities of 850kg and 1,000kg cost £1,125 and £1,450 respectively. Hydraulic control adds £205. RECO, Brampton Rd, Huntingdon PE18 6BQ (01480 455151).

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