Archive Article: 2001/08/22 - Farmers Weekly

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Archive Article: 2001/08/22

22 August 2001

The cost of a hedge

FEELING broke? Heres why. Youre spending £16m a year on looking after hedgerows. Feeling tired? Its not surprising. Youre putting in 1.5m hours – which is 41,000 weeks work – on maintaining, planting, cutting, and repairing the 300,000 miles of hedges in the UK.

We should quickly add that these figures are for all farmers – not just individuals – in case you were feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the job.

The NFUs latest survey of its members attached these values to the efforts put in by farmers on the stewardship of hedgerows. And the survey did not just comprise those environmental enthusiasts who have signed up to government schemes. Those canvassed are average farm businesses.

And yet we still see those tired old criticisms about farmers ripping up hedgerows and despoiling the countryside. It simply isnt true. Mistakes were made in the past, but the industry has learnt that a healthy hedgerow is an asset, not a liability. What a pity this message is not getting across.

Funding forecasts

BEFORE those scientists reading this rush to the attack, lets just get this straight at the start. We believe disease forecasting is a good idea. It has been very useful in combating virus in sugar beet, and blight in potatoes . But it cant be relied on in isolation. The best way of checking out the health of your crop is still to open the gate and have a look.

Courtesy of cash from Government, industry and from you, via the HGCA levy, scientists are now busy developing forecasting systems for oilseed rape diseases. One for light leaf spot is already up and running on the web; another for phoma is being developed, under a new project called Password, which also includes rape pests.

The background science that goes into the creation of a forecasting scheme is hugely valuable. We learn a lot about why these diseases spread – and how to combat them. But at the risk of sounding mealy-mouthed, the light leaf spot forecasting system is just not accurate enough to rule spray decisions by itself, and is not an alternative to scrutinising your crop.

Judge for yourself on www.iacr.bbsrc.ac.uk and go to the growers pages. When more factors, more diseases and pests and more weather data are built into this forecast, its going to be a complicated beast but could growers rely on it and would they be willing to pay for it?

Do your N homework

YOU can have too much of a good thing. Potato growers are finding that out to their cost – nitrogen usage is still way too high, say the agronomists.

The wet winter and late plantings encouraged growers to up the N, but this was a mistake, leading to problems with crops failing to set skin and too much late growth. And we dont need to add that they also wasted money on unnecessary N in a year when costs were high.

It doesnt help that fertiliser advice can be confusing, contradictory and sometimes plain wrong. The new RB209 guidelines go some way to addressing the problem, but theres still too much uncertainty out there, on timings, rates and type of product.

When confusion reigns, then commercial companies step into the breach with a host of different recommendations. No wonder its hard for growers to sort out which is sound advice, and which is isnt. Heres one crop where more basic R&D is desperately needed.

The British Potato Council research review is a welcome first step. Dont be put off by the title; for once this is a scientific tome which is readable, controversial and debunks much nitrogen nonsense on potatoes. Its worth a making it your bedtime read; for copies, phone 01865 782270.

Fuelling the future

WHEN Peter Billins passes a big bale of straw, rotting in a field, he doesnt see a waste problem. He sees 330 litres of transport fuel, worth something like 70p/litre. No wonder theres a glint in his eye.

As chief executive of British Biogen, Mr Billins is a fervent advocate of bioethanol – motor fuel that can be produced from virtually any bio-waste. Hes hoping to build the countrys first biofuel plant early next year, which could take beet tops, potato waste, straw, you name it – and turn it into valuable fuel, which burns more efficiently and more cleanly than petrol.

Its a good news story for growers, for UK fuel bills, and for the environment. And hes looking for 4m tonnes of biomass, which you could be supplying.

Want to hear more? Come to our Crops Conferences, and listen to Mr Billins expound the future for "fuel" farming. Register on page 47.

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Archive Article: 2001/08/22

22 August 2001

&#8226 Provisional sugar beet factory opening dates are announced by British Sugar. First in line is Wissington on 25 Sept, then its 1 Oct for Cantley and Newark, 2 Oct for Bury and York, 4 Oct for Kidderminster and 9 Oct for Allscott.

&#8226 If youve a conservation project on the farm, why not try for an award to help fund the cost? The NFU Presidents Awards, sponsored by English Nature, offers up to £6,000 for the winner of the biodiversity competition; entry forms from local NFU offices.

&#8226 Theres grim financial news from East Anglian accountants Larking Gowen: many farmers in the region are now living off borrowings and effectively working for nothing, according to the companys survey, based on figures from the end of financial year in March 2001, and covering 87 farms. Copies available from 01603 624181.

&#8226 Make a note of the date: 5-6 December, and the venue: the NAC at Stoneleigh, Warks. The event is AgriVision – a farm business show which is focusing on the industrys future and the food chain. Theres more info on its own website: www.agrivision.org.uk

&#8226 British Potato 2001 at Newark this month attracted 6,500 visitors, says the British Potato Council, which is delighted with the response.

&#8226 If youve a bright idea for using up wheat, barley, oats or rye as a commercial venture – it might be a new specialist food item, for example – then apply for the HGCA Enterprise Awards 2002. On offer is up to £50,000 to help launch, research or market products or processes that will increase grain use. Details on www.hgca.com/enterprise

&#8226 The Soil Management Initiative has put together this excellent guide on establishment with the most common questions – and answers – asked of moving to minimal or direct drilling systems. The SMI includes organisations representing the agrochemical and machinery industry as well as research. Obtain a free copy by contacting SMI on 01244 881815 or www.smi@smi.org.uk.

&#8226 Further uncertainty is cast on the Governments farm-scale GM crop trials following a critical report from the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. Greater separation distances, more consultation and less secrecy are needed. Meanwhile, UK retailers announced new guidelines on the technical standards and checks required to keep GM ingredients from the food chain; copies are available from the Stationery Office on-line bookstore on www.clicktso.com or 0870 600 5522.

&#8226 The row over whether farm-saving seed might jeopardise IACS claims takes another turn. After clarification was demanded by the NFU, the latest announcement from DEFRA is that there is nothing to prevent the legal use of farm-saved seed on more than one holding. And under the Plant Varieties Rights Act, two separate farms owned by the same farmer, but distant from each other, would still together be the "own holding".

&#8226 Grainfarmers (the new name for SCATS Grain) is to merge with the Organic Arable Marketing Group to handle organic combinable crops throughout the UK. MD Tim Pollock expects the joint venture to market more than 25% of UK organic cereal production this year.

&#8226 GM science moves on with the development of a system of gene insertion into tomatoes which does not involve the cells nucleus DNA. This means the GM trait is not then passed on to progeny, so limiting any risk of gene spread. This discovery will help the development of edible plant vaccines and pharmaceuticals, says Dr Peter Lutman of the bioscience information body CropGen.

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