18 September 1998

Hagberg data must be earlier, more accurate

By Andrew Blake

PRE-HARVEST forecasts of wheat Hagbergs (Arable Aug 28) will have to be more precise and available faster to be of practical value to growers, according to a Cotswolds-based crop consultant.

Brian Keen says this years information, from a pilot run of the scheme developed at Harper Adams Agricultural College, would do little to help decide which fields to cut first if it were repeated commercially.

Mr Keen is one of three members of the Association of Independent Crop Consultants taking part in a £38,000 HGCA-funded exercise to test the system. It predicted that all bar one of the 17 fields of three milling varieties on two estates would achieve Hagbergs over 250 and that they were all at high sprouting risk.

"We could probably have predicted the same thing purely from our own knowledge of the varieties involved. To be of real help we need more than a broad-brush prediction that Hagberg is going to be over 250. To be fair to the researchers they tell me they should be able to fine tune the system for next year, which might enable farmers to prioritise their wheat harvest."

In the event, harvested Hagbergs matched the forecasts quite closely, the one significantly different result being probably due to lodging post sampling.

"One of the main difficulties seems to be deciding when to take the samples," says Mr Keen. "The timing is crucial and I am not sure that farmers would be able to get it spot on."

The other key snag is that the pre-harvest test results, from NIAB Labtest, must be relayed to farms very quickly, says Mr Keen. Delays this year suggest that overcoming that hurdle may not be easy or cheap, he adds. "The lab will have a period of a week or less to do all the analyses and get the results back. I just wonder whether it will be possible to provide a commercial service at reasonable cost."

Harper Adams researcher Peter Kettlewell remains confident. "This seasons pilot trial has been invaluable, giving us a clear idea of the aspects to be improved ready for commercial launch by NIAB Labtest next season. We should be able to put more detail into the forecasts next year, particularly on the risk of sprouting if the weather is wet after sampling." &#42

HAGBERG FORECASTS

&#8226 Limited help this season.

&#8226 Too broad brush.

&#8226 Sample timing tricky.

&#8226 More detail next year?