16 April 1999

Educate the right people for a thriving agriculture

By John Allan

ATTRACTING the right people into modern arable farming and developing their expertise once within the industry is vital if the industry is to thrive.

"We still need to attract the right range of people into agriculture if it is to thrive, and that includes good tractor drivers and stockmen as well as managers," says Tony Harris, recently-retired chairman of the BASIS registration board and the British Agrochemical Association training panel.

Having started in agricultural education in 1952 Dr Harris is well placed to comment. "Training is required at all levels from NVQs to degrees. But with more and more agricultural colleges tying up with universities there must not be too much academic drift."

Formal education, such as that delivered by Harper Adams Agricultural college, where Dr Harris was principal until 1994, is now more student centred, he notes. "Students are challenged with problems during modular courses, rather relying on learning by rote and final exams."

Colleges have also adapted to a broader rural dimension. But in future they will need to go further and embrace the whole rural economy, food safety and quality issues, organic farming and environmental requirements, he says.

Self regulating qualifications, such as FACTS for fertiliser advisers, are also important. They help ensure accountability even when it is not called for by legislation.

New this year is the in-depth BAA/BASIS Plant Protection Award, open to anyone giving advice on pesticides. The exam tests scientific understanding, responsible use of pesticides, their place in the wider environment and an appreciation of public understanding.

But such qualifications only indicate competence at a point in time. Continuing professional development is also needed and for pesticides and fertilisers that is monitored under the BASIS Professional Register.

Government supports that as a way of ensuring field advisers are up to date and able to take aboard concepts such as Quality Assurance and Integrated Crop Management, Dr Harris comments.

Provided both formal and on-going training keep developing alongside technology transfer they should stand the industry in good stead for the future, Dr Harris concludes. &#42

Take our subsidy challenge

IS Walston right? Should all production subsidies to arable farmers be abolished?

That is the challenge we are putting to readers in the 1999 farmers weekly/nabim Essay Competition. Open to anyone aged under 28 years, the contest is looking for sound reasoning and creative thinking, all summarised in 5000 words or less.

If you have strong views on this important issue why not put pen to paper now. For the top entry there is a £1000 prize on offer and the chance to appear in print in farmers weekly. For two runners-up there is a years free subscription to Britains best farming magazine – farmers weekly.

The panel of top industry judges will be looking for a clear understanding of the role subsidies play now and the impact their removal could have, positive or negative.

You may wish to address the way such changes could affect:

&#8226 Your farm.

&#8226 UK farming industry as a whole.

&#8226 the natural environment.

&#8226 the rural community.

The three finalists will be invited, expenses paid, to the Cereals 99 event at Vine Farm, near Royston, Herts on Wed, 16 June, where the winner will be announced.

The deadline for entries is Fri 14 May. So start writing now! &#42

READTHERULES

1 The competition is open to anyone under 28 years old on 14 May, 1999, but not FW employees or nabim member companies.

2 Complete the entry form in ink and post it with your essay (5000 words max) to arrive by Fri 14 May 1999. Entry forms may be photocopied.

3 Late, incomplete, mutilated or illegible entries will be disqualified, as will any failing to comply with these rules.

4 The judges will be appointed by FW and nabim. Their decision will be final.

5 Entrants must agree to publication of their article, in whole or in part, in FW.

1999 farmers weekly/nabim Essay Competition Entry Form

Full name…………………………………………………………………………………….

Address……………………………………………………………………………………….

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……………………………………………………………Post code……………………….

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Signed…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Return to: 1999 farmers weekly/nabim Essay Competition, Quadrant House, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5AS by Fri 14 May.

Potato trials show stimulant is worth a try

THREE years of independent small plot potato trials suggest growers really should try a growth stimulant on part of their crop this season, says John Ward, agronomist at the Scott Abbott Arable Crops Station near Peterborough, Cambs.

His view was formed after contracted experiments showed significant boosts in output from Yeald and its new micronutrient and adjuvant-enhanced stablemate Yeald Plus.

An admitted sceptic at the outset, Mr Ward found the greatest responses in determinate varieties. Initial results on indeterminate Cara were disappointing. But year two trials, on more determinate Maris Piper, were encouraging.

Last year the average increase in marketable output from Yeald Plus was 7.2t/ha (2.9t/acre), or 14% over the untreated controls, reports Mr Ward. The spray was used in first early Maris Bard, second early Marfona and Estima grown as an early maincrop alongside Maris Piper. Yeald alone gave half the yield response.

Within the Yeald Plus figures determinate types Estima and Bard showed most benefit, yields up 19% and 26% respectively.

Best results were from applications between the start of stolon elongation, when there is minimum crop cover, up to tuber initiation. Last year, because of late planting and physiologically old, closely graded Super Elite seed, that period was just 14 days.

"It is a narrow window. Growers need to watch their crops closely if they are to spray at the correct time." The main effect is on bulking rather than tuber number. &#42

Early hygiene curbs blight

Blight control starts with

personal pre-season hygiene.

Edward Long talks to Tom

Dixon of Beeson Group on

how to get the season off on

the right foot

TWO consecutive high blight pressure years means potato growers must be on red-alert this spring; diligent pre-season hygiene and robust early controls are required.

"Awareness and prevention are the key elements in blight control," says Tom Dixon, technical director for the Norfolk-based Beeson Group. "Growers need to be aware of the risks, and take action to prevent blight reaching their own, and neighbours crops."

Fungal spores can be blown for miles, he warns, so slack pre-season hygiene can jeopardise crops across a wide area, as can failing to hit the disease when it first appears in crops.

"Top priority, particularly after a run of blight years and a mild winter, must be to destroy dumps. They are the main source of infection. In Norfolk last year we saw the fungus on dumps in early May, before a lot of the crop was even planted," he says.

Such poor practice cost growers £40m in fungicides at the farm-gate, in both 98 and 97. Yet some growers still seem to miss the point, he says. "Dumps must be destroyed, preferably with a total herbicide to kill everything, well before the start of the new season. And checked regularly for regrowth. If there is any, kill it."

Volunteers are another big source of trouble. They are often the first plants to be infected, especially after high blight years, and provide a stepping stone for the disease into crops. Eradication elsewhere in the rotation is vital.

Seed hygiene is important. It can carry infection which develops into primary disease foci in a crop, so it must be closely inspected before use. But dried up lesions, which are activated when in contact with moist soil, may be hard to spot. Anything that is suspect must be discarded and destroyed.

Scarce seed supplies may mean sourcing from a range of seedsmen supplying variable quality. And more use of home-saved stocks increase the risk of seed-borne infections. Extra diligence is needed with all seed this spring, he stresses.

Once the season gets underway early growers are urged to take a responsible attitude to blight, particularly where maincrops are also grown. "In Cheshire last year we saw blight in maincrops which had spread in from untreated earlies in June. Early varieties tend to be more blight-susceptible than later types, yet many crops are not given fungicide as they are lifted before much harm can be done."

Crops grown under polythene covers require extra attention when covers are removed. "The soft foliage is highly vulnerable to spores coming in from dumps and volunteers," he notes.

All crops, early or main, need monitoring regularly in May and June. Control programmes should start based on forecasting techniques with fungicide treatments to protect fast growing foliage, before blight is seen, he stresses.

Where disease pressure is high a systemic fungicide must be used, but a protectant should be adequate in a low disease pressure crop.

"Cost of prevention at this stage is only a few £s/ha, and it is money well spent to keep blight out of the crop. Once an outbreak occurs it needs immediate and repeated treatment to nip it in the bud. Only with care will neighbouring crops be kept clean." &#42

Set-aside can-dos

ADAS reminds growers that set-aside rules permit a number of operations during the set-aside period.

lHedging and Ditching.

lLiming, but no P & K.

lFYM and slurry spreading – only if produced on the farm, and only on green cover.

lSpraying certain non-residual herbicides.

lGlyphosate: After Apr 15 and land not to be cut before July 1.

lDrainage: From July 1.

lPlough /Subsoil: From July 1.

lPrepare Seed-bed: From July 15.

lStraw stacks and FYM heaps must not be claimed as set-aside, as clearly no crop could be grown where they stand. &#42

Growth regulators good with adjuvant

THE latest plant growth regulators are more effective with penetrant adjuvant Li-700, says manufacturer Newman Agrochemical.

Across five wheat trials yield increase averaged 0.2t/ha from 0.5% adjuvant by volume plus 0.2 litres/ha of Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl), compared to a straight Moddus spray at 0.3 litres/ha. In barley 0.3 litres/ha Moddus plus Li-700 increased yield by 5% over the pgr alone at 0.4 litrea/ha.

Cost is £5-£6/ha in a 200 litres/ha spray volume, says Newman Agrochemicals David Cameron. &#42