Archive Article: 1998/06/20 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 1998/06/20

20 June 1998

Ensuring your wheat meets the specifications for export should now be easier, thanks to recent research. Sarah Henly reports.

WHEN French scientist Marcel Chopin designed a wheat quality test in the 1920s, he couldnt have known that it would survive into the next century.

Indeed, when you hear the criticisms of UK millers and bakers, you wonder how it has done so. Complicated to use, time-consuming, expensive, and prone to giving variable results, to name but a few.

The UK industry has its own assessments of dough suitability for bread and biscuit making. But the Chopin measurement of dough strength and extensibility remains one of the most important tests for processors on the continent. And any UK growers wishing to export wheat to Spain, Portugal and Italy must meet the specifications, says Dr Julian South, research consultant at ADAS Rosemaund in Herefordshire.

European millers have been known to reject UK grain if it doesnt reach their Chopin standards. That may seem harsh considering the uncertainty in the industry on whether it should apply to crops grown under UK conditions. But overseas buyers hold the reins so it remains a requirement.

Dr South is involved in an HGCA-funded project, led by ADAS and carried out with the Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Association, where there is considerable experience of using the Chopin Alveograph. The test measures the energy and time required to inflate a sheet of dough and to burst the bubble formed.

In the process, two important quality measures are collected, the configuration ratio or pressure against time, known as P/L, and the deformation energy called W. For bread production, P/L must typically be less than 0.6 and W greater than 170. For biscuits, P/L should be less than 0.5 and W less than 110.

To maximise the chance of meeting these specifications, UK growers must first select a wheat variety which suits the export market for the end use intended, says Dr South.

The chances of each popular variety meeting the Chopin requirements has been monitored for some years by British Cereal Exports. Over three years of testing, the bread wheat Hereward typically gave a P/L ratio of 0.56 and a W score of 214. And Riband passed the biscuit requirements with a P/L of 0.39 and a W of 74. Rialto, however, wasnt so lucky during that period, failing the P/L test for bread wheat.

Evidently, despite selecting the most suitable variety, an element of chance still exists, warns Dr South. That is what prompted the HGCA to initiate a study to identify the field conditions most suitable for good Chopin Alveograph characteristics. Of the numerous factors investigated (see table), the following were shown to be most important in meeting the required specification – site, soil water availability, nitrogen inputs, and to a lesser extent, sowing date.

The Chopin scores varied considerably between the three sites in the trial. Mercia winter wheat was grown in the same way on a silty clay loam, a chalky boulder clay and a well-drained, stony loam. It came nearest to requirements on the latter site, but the variability was large, explains Dr South.

"We suspect that soil moisture and rainfall during grain filling influence scores on the different sites, which means it is difficult to predict the outcome. However we do know results from other trials suggest that drought leads to unacceptably high Chopin scores. So even where you have picked a suitable variety, you should avoid sowing it in very light, well-drained soils," he suggests.

Apart from variety choice, there are perhaps only two ways in which growers can help to ensure Chopin scores are met. The first, sowing date, is thought to have a minor effect, with later sowing improving the P/L ratio.

However, two extremes – mid-September and early November – were compared in the trial, and there was no effect on the W value. Dr South expects there to be little difference within the optimum timings of late September to late October.

A more consistent way to influence Chopin results could be to optimise nitrogen application rates. In one series of trials using Riband, which normally makes the continental biscuit grade, nitrogen rates of up to 420kg/ha (336 units/acre) were applied. Increasing the rate up to 135kg/ha (108 units/acre) showed a decrease in P/L, and from then onwards it remained fairly stable. The W score increased as nitrogen rates increased further, but stayed within the specifications.

Since the aim with a biscuit wheat is a low P/L and W score, Dr South can see the benefit in using at least 135kg/ha of nitrogen, to ensure P/L is not sub-optimal. For bread wheat, where a high W score is desirable, the same would appear to be prudent.

However, he stresses that those nitrogen rates worked for one variety grown on a clay soil in harvest year 1996. "Further trials must be done before we can make across the board nitrogen recommendations. Having said that, we believe growers could improve their chances of producing export quality wheat by using a little more nitrogen than is needed for yield," he concludes.

Factors investigated in the study to identify the conditions needed to meet the Chopin requirements:

&#8226 Site – including climate/soil type

&#8226 Soil water availability using irrigation

&#8226 Nitrogen application rates from 0 – 420kg/ha

&#8226 Position of wheat in the rotation

&#8226 Sowing date of mid-September or early November

&#8226 Seed rate ranging from 250-500 seeds/sq m

&#8226 Lodging control using a growth regulator or none

&#8226 Crop shading using ADAS Terringtons covers

Assessments carried out to ensure that the study was dealing with a grain sample of sufficient quality to meet UK requirements:

&#8226 Grain specific weight

&#8226 Moisture content (corrected to 14%)

&#8226 Protein content

&#8226 Hagberg Falling Number

&#8226 SDS

&#8226 Zeleny

&#8226 Chopin Alveograph

If youre growing wheat for the export market, youll have heard of Chopin Alveograph scores. P/L and W are measures of protein quality important to European millers and bakers.

UK growers must meet the Chopin specifications if they wish to sell their wheat for export.

Choosing a variety suitable for continental bread and biscuit making is the first step to ensure that. Advice on varietal suitability is available from the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) and various other professional organisations.

But even with expert advice and the most reliable of varieties, there is no guarantee that you will make the grade. Recent HGCA-funded research has shown that Chopin Alveograph results are influenced by a number of factors including site, soil water availability and nitrogen applications to the growing crop.

Keeping within the specifications may mean avoiding drought-prone soils and ensuring nitrogen inputs are optimised, the work suggests.

Although further research is needed to confirm the findings, it may be wise to review your soil type and nitrogen fertiliser policy before deciding where to grow wheat for export.

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Archive Article: 1998/06/20

20 June 1998

DO we lose anything by ploughing down P and K fertiliser, rather than spreading on to a prepared seedbed?

Duncan Brightman,

South View, Green End,

Little Staughton

Bedford MK44 2BU

Email: brightman@kbnet.net

THE short answer is no. But then you have to consider the soil indices for both phosphorus and potassium and the depth of ploughing.

Most growers will have a soil analysis carried out every five years, or possibly three years in some cases. Most soils are soil index 2 or above for these. At index three we are talking about maintenance dressings only from time to time and I dont think it will make any difference at all how P and K are introduced.

At index one, more regular applications are needed but again there should be little difference in application methods.

However, it is important to keep the nutrient level of the top soil high so growers should not be ploughing too deeply in an index one situation. It is very rare to get a response to P & K application because the aim is to supply a maintenance dressing.

If it is a new field, or growers are not sure of the indices, then they do need to get a soil analysis.

John Williams,

soil scientist, ADAS Boxworth, Cambs.

THE grower wont lose much on the potash side as long as he isnt ploughing down below the rooting depth; it might be important to have the nutrient in the topmost layer for a shallow rooting crop such as lettuce. Top dressing may place the phosphorus in the top 4-5mm where it can be beneficial to some crops because of the even distribution.

For a sugar beet grower, however, ploughing down potash rather than incorporating wont make a difference.

With phosphorus there might be a difference. Ploughing for sugar beet is normally done in the previous autumn for spring seeding so there is a possibility of some phosphate becoming locked up over the winter.

However, the act of ploughing down doesnt cause problems as long as you dont plough below the rooting depth of the crop which can be quite extensive for crops such as wheat and sugar beet, certainly below the 30cm to which most people will plough.

Ian Richards,

Levington Agriculture, Ipswich, Suffolk.

Deliver the goods, please…

AFTER reading the reports in Crops (w/e 6 June) on agrochemical importing, I have to ask the question – when is a chemical manufacturer not a chemical supplier?

The facts are:

1 During 1998, Pulsar, Epic, Compass, Terpal and Opus have been unavailable for use by many farmers at the optimum timing.

2 Many distributors are pressured by the manufacturers before the spring spraying season to establish likely required volumes of products. This means they need almost to second guess weather patterns for the following five months.

3Prices charged to distributors are in many cases not given on order placement dates, just a vague promise that "We will supply you".

4 Most farmers with a responsible attitude would like to practice integrated crop management, benefiting both the cropping and environmental balances on the farm.

5 Because of the inability of the distributor, and therefore the farmer, to obtain sufficient supplies of the required product at the optimum time, the farmer is more likely to stock up earlier with products which he thinks he may use. This, in tight economic times, will encourage use of products in stock, which may not be ideal for the job, at the expense of considerations towards environment and integrated crop management.

6 It would appear certain agrochemical manufacturers are more interested in the bottom line of stock carry-over costs than in supplying the very market which put them where they are now. They need to understand that they work in an agricultural world which cant be governed by exact prediction and accountants.

7 Many of the aforementioned products are produced by BASF which promotes integrated crop management. In one of its own publications it is stated that: The key is forward planning and control should be achieved by an integrated strategy using all available options and later the fundamental requirement is for the most appropriate product to be applied to the target area at the correct dose, at the optimum timing.

So: Being A Sceptical Farmer…

Suggestion 1

Company manufacturers should get their act together for next season and not expect unrealistic financial pressures to work in an agricultural industry more dominated by practicalities and the climate variations.

Suggestion 2

A practical common sense explanation of 1998 and a coherent plan for 1999 by some of the major manufacturers – not financial control excuses.

Peter Gadd,

Hollygate Farm, Stragglethorpe, Notts

…we did, mostly

FORWARD planning is a pre-requisite for the efficient running of any organisation, be it manufacturer, distributor or farmer.

As a responsible supplier, we do understand the needs and vagaries of our market. It is for this precise reason that we work closely with our distributors who are best able to reflect local requirements.

With specific reference to the BASF products quoted, the following are the facts:

Terpal: Total availability of our late cereal plant growth regulators are 50% above 1997 sales; with farm sales by the end of April being 2.75 times higher than the same period last year.

Opus and Epic: Both have been under phenomenal demand when one considers that we have also introduced the new kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole co-formulations.

Total availability of all our epoxiconazole products will be approximately double the sales in 1997; and by the end of April farm sales of Opus and Epic were 2.4 times higher than in 1997.

Pulsar: Unfortunately production problems did mean that the product was not supplied in time meet early usage. For that BASF apologises.

Where possible we have tried to anticipate and respond to customer needs. In this context we believe it is essential to work closely with our distributors in trying to meet the needs of the UK market.

John Bedford, BASF, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire.

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Archive Article: 1998/06/20

20 June 1998

BEARING THE SPRAY TAX PAIN

Pesticide taxation may be introduced in the UK. Anders Fällman reports on what more than 10 years of taxation on sprays has meant for Swedish growers.

EXTRA taxes on the pesticide bill hurt Swedish growers on their introduction but few now regret the disappearance of older, more toxic pesticides and have adapted to make a virtue of rational use of pesticides.

The level of tax was reduced when Sweden entered the EU four years ago but even before then arable growers were still finding it worthwhile to pay the tax and reap the benefits of improved disease and pest control.

Pesticide taxes were introduced in the mid-1980s when Sweden still had a regulated price system for exporting surplus cereals. The new tax was pitched at Kr46/kg of active ingredient used, and it generated about £10m for dealing with the exportable surplus. At that time no one believed the later claim that taxes were brought in because of government concern for the environment.

The cool Swedish climate means much fungicide and insecticide is used simply as insurance, although herbicide treatment is standard for the maintenance of trouble-free, long-term yields. Grower strategy was largely unaffected by the taxes although production costs were increased.

Göran Olsson, who grows about 90ha (220 acres) of cereals in southern Sweden, paid Kr4,000 in pesticide taxes in 1987 but it did not make him change his pesticide use. The potential losses in lower yields and poorer quality from not controlling pests and diseases were higher than the taxes even then.

Restricted use

The average Swedish grower now has about Kr20/ha in extra costs due to pesticide tax following a change in government approach when Sweden joined the EU. Before joining, higher and differentiated taxes were discussed but the agricultural lobby managed to prevent these. Instead they accepted that the authorities would set up a strategy designed to take several controversial products out of the market at the same time as modern alternatives were being introduced. Top of the hit list were very old products and those with particularly high mobility in soil.

Well-known substances such as atrazine, tri-allate and bentazone were lost or placed on restricted use. Most changes did not affect costs for growers greatly. The main exception being control of wild oats -required by law in Sweden and some other European countries – which now have to be controlled in some circumstances with more expensive herbicides. However, the cost of wild oat control in barley has been reduced by about 40% thanks to the introduction of fenoxaprop-P-ethyl .

The pure EBDC products for use against potato blight were rapidly taken off the market. The replacement Shirlan (fluazinam) is more effective against blight but also more expensive.

Farmers argued that the pesticide should be removed to allow Swedish exports to remain competitive in international markets after entering the EU. Instead, a Kr20/kg tax was introduced in 1994 and there is now no talk of change.

While it can be claimed that retaining the tax is a disaster, the reality is that the £3m now collected is hardly a matter of life and death for growers. However, the money, which is collected from the pesticide manufacturers and passed down the line to growers, is not earmarked for any particular use and goes to the Swedish treasury with no traceability back to the farmer.

The changes mean that Göran Olsson now pays about Kr1,300 (£102) annually in pesticide tax and he is among farmers who believe there are benefits from moving to modern pesticides and the advantage it might give in markets where Swedish grain competes with that from southern Europe where older, more toxic products continue in use.

Mr Olsson is chairman of Odling i Balans, a group similar to the English LEAF. "In the late 1980s we realised that people in Sweden were starting to have doubts concerning pesticide use and that the taxes did not seem to be bringing about the necessary changes in farm management," he says.

Odling i Balans was formed and drew up checklists and acceptable limits to measure the effective use of pesticides and fertiliser on farms. The organisation also developed the biological bed which uses plants to filter chemical residue off from spray washings and other potential pollutants in the farm yard. The principles developed by Odling i Balans are now being adopted by some buyers of grain who pay an extra 10% payment on contract if the grower meets certain production requirements. This is monitored by regular checks on the participating farms.

The latest concept put before Swedish growers is RECO. It is a government support available to growers signing up for five years. Conditions include adopting spray-free zones, a properly tested sprayer, a new soil map showing P & K and pH status, and a biobed. After meeting these requirements there is an estimated Kr36-67/ha left for the grower in the deal, depending on his farm size.

Behaviour change

"This gives Swedish farmers much more money than is lost through the pesticide tax," Mr Olsson points out. However, he believes the scheme could bring about a significant change in farmer behaviour which is much more important. "Groundwater and water earmarked for drinking water must not be polluted – if it is that will be the end for us," says Mr Olsson.

Reports of agrochemical residues in groundwater may mean major changes in Denmark where a number of major products are being withdrawn – among them all phenoxyacetic herbicides such as MCPA, together with linuron and mecoprop-P products and the pyrethroid deltamethrin (Decis).

Pesticide taxation in Denmark is imposed as a percentage of the recommended farm price – 36% extra for insecticides and 17% for herbicides and fungicides. The collection system is arranged so the agrochemical distributor has to pay the full tax on recommended prices even if the product is discounted on farms. Extra tax is payable if the distributor manages to obtain more than recommended prices.

The Danish government is now considering calls for a doubling of the taxation. However, agricultural experts are arguing even that would reduce insecticide use by no more than 8% because of the returns to be gained from controlling some of the more important pests in crops such as oilseed rape.

Pesticide taxes were abolished in Finland on its entry to the EU. Norway, which decided to stay out, is currently considering whether it needs to introduce pesticide taxation.

ÑExchange rate (7/6/98): £1 = Skr12.8

Installing a biological bed to remove potential pollutants from spray washings and yard spillages can gain Swedish farmers a grain price premium.

Installing a biological bed to remove potential pollutants from spray washings and yard spillages can gain Swedish farmers a grain price premium.

"Agrochemical pollution in drinking water will be the end for us" – cereal grower Göran Olsson.

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