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Letters to the Editor

19 February 2000

Letters to the Editor

Measuring up to the margins…

I WAS interested to read your article on measurement of field margins (Crops, 11 December 1999). You may wish to draw the attention of readers to the situation where if they plant 2m or 6m grass margins under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, the overall distance to the centre of the field boundary has to be deducted from an IACS claim and not just the width of the grass margin.

MAFF told me that it was "looking at the situation" when it was pointed out that part of the stewardship grant was then clawed back because the 2m allowance for field boundaries was then disallowed. Possible your intervention may result in MAFF addressing this ridiculous situation.

A J Coleman,

Lower Norton Farms, Norton, Sutton Scotney, Winchester, Hants

…and a better solution on boundariesAS an environmental consultancy, offering advice on a wide range of environmental and conservation aspects on farms, we regard the new IACS rule on field boundaries as a total ecological and environmental disaster.

The relevant section is that which stipulates that the area of any field boundary, which is found at inspection to be in excess of 2m wide, will be deducted from the eligible area, and the grower penalised accordingly.

Encouraging farmers to adopt new methods which lead to environmental improvement is not easy – particularly if they fear compromising their bottom line. This ruling will only serve to build on these suspicions. And on many farms, the only ground that exists for developing wildlife habitats is by the hedgerows and at field margins.

There are three key points that MAFF must appreciate:

&#8226 The UK has a unique pattern of hedges within Europe

&#8226 This rule will lead to more hedgerows being grubbed up, and more frequent hedgerow trimming, with adverse effects on birds and mammals

&#8226 The A-shaped hedge, with a wide base and grass strip on either side, is the most useful habitat for the maximum number of species to thrive. The new width restriction would eliminate this.

A better solution would be to introduce an environmental grant payable as of right for the total area occupied by hedges, shelterbelts, etc that are growing on land that is eligible for area aid. Wider hedgerows could receive a habitat payment on par with arable area aid.

We appeal to the ministry to avoid the potential for an environmental catastrophe across the entire arable area, by taking urgent action to amend this ruling.

T F Robinson and M R Hood-Cree,

Countryside Conservation Services,

Bythorn, Cambs

Making strides with lupins

I READ with interest your coverage of the AAB Conference in Crops, w/e 22 January. However, I was concerned by the comments on soil pH and fungal diseases on lupins.

The absolute upper soil pH limit for the autumn sown white lupin has been shown to be 7.2 on the silty clay loam with flints at Rothamsted. In practice we recommend to farmers that they only use fields with a soil pH <7.0 to be sure of avoiding crop losses. In the last seven years we have grown a vast number of small plot trials and covered all of the arable areas of the UK. We have not experienced any problems on soils with a pH value of <7.0. In fact we have grown the majority of those trials on soils within the pH range 6.5-7.0. There is no evidence for an upper soil pH limit of 6.5.

The occurrence of two new diseases is not a cause for concern. Black root rot is common on grain legumes but does not cause serious concern for farmers. A wide range of phoma isolates were tested for pathogenicity on white lupin at Rothamsted. All were found to be non-pathogenic. The identification of a new isolate on a white lupin crop is a point of scientific interest. It must be remembered that the two crops that were infected with these diseases were under stress from high soil pH (7.2+) and were therefore more susceptible to fungal pathogens.

There are fungal pathogens that are of great concern to lupin growers the world over. Potentially the most serious is anthracnose, and it must be stressed to UK farmers at every opportunity that they must be absolutely sure of the health status of their seed in order to prevent a serious outbreak. Compared to anthracnose, the threat from black root rot and phoma is very small.

We have made tremendous progress with the lupin crop in the UK. For those of us who have experience of growing the crop the risks are now quite low and a profit can be made each year. We are now at the critical stage of transferring that experience and knowledge to a wider audience of farmers and their agronomists/advisers.

Ian Shield,

IACR Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts

Alternative

potential

I WOULD like to make a few comments on the AAB report in Crops, 22 January.

&#8226 Lupins

These are pH sensitive but will happily tolerate a pH up to 7.

No incidence of either black root rot or the new isolate of phoma have been found on any crop in the UK.

We have been involved with winter lupins for the past eight years and now have two spring lupin varieties which overcome the problems associated with over-wintering lupins.

&#8226 Winter linseed

Although the area of linseed grown in the UK in 2999 was in excess of 200,000ha, winter linseed accounted for only about 10% of this. For 2000 harvest the area of winter linseed has fallen by around 90%. This is due in the main to the combination of high yields for spring varieties and the ease of spring crop management. Spring varieties such as Oscar, which is the highest yielding variety ever, and Agristar, which was the highest selling variety in 1999, will both easily outyield the winter varieties.

&#8226 Evening primrose

There is now very little, if any, evening primrose grown in the UK. This is due to the Chinese growing and selling the crop and the oil far cheaper than could ever be done in the UK and therefore as an opportunity it has little potential.

Andrew Flux,

Commercial Manager, Gorham & Bateson, Caroline House, Ryston End, Downham Market, Norfolk

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Letters to the Editor

17 October 1998

EMERGENCE in some potato crops in the eastern counties this year has been uneven. Late drilling into poor ground conditions will not have helped but there are reports that seed treated with fenpiclonil have fared particularly badly. Whats going on?

NOVARTIS has received a number of enquiries from potato growers who experienced poor and uneven crop emergence this season where Gambit (fenpiclonil) seed treatment was used, We believe the problems seen are part of the broader picture of poor emergence and crop development experienced on a wide scale during 1998.

February was very warm, April very wet and May drier than average. These conditions contributed to a general problem with emergence associated with this season.

Novartis takes particularly seriously all product performance enquiries and, pending the results of further evaluations, has decided to place a temporary halt on sales and use of the product and to implement a product recall campaign. It must be stressed this is a precautionary measure while we evaluate scientifically the possible causal factors through rigorous trials work and assessment of field data in 1999. It is our intention to resume sales of the product once tests have been satisfactorily completed.

It is important to note that, despite extensive investigations, no direct link has been established between Gambit and the early season problems reported by growers this year. Additionally, emergence problems have not been limited to an association with Gambit. They are also unique in the products UK development and commercial history.

Andy Pigott,

Novartis Crop Protection, Whittlesford, Cambridge

Farm Management Pocketbook by John Nix, £8.75 from Wye College Press, Wye, Ashford, Kent TN25 5AH. ISBN 0-86266-059-9

Probably the most useful item youll find for under a tenner this year. From tractor operating costs, through oilseed gross margin calculations, to setting up a golf course, this is the farmers source book. Each edition is updated to reflect changing trends. For instance, this newest edition has background on livery, which is becoming a lucrative arable farm sideline, and …ostriches. Each to their own!

The Living Fields: Our Agricultural Heritage by Jack Rodney Harlan, £35 from Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-64992-7.

This is one for the enthusiast curious to learn more about the origins of domesticated crop plants and how cultivation practices developed with early man. The author is professor of plant genetics at the University of Illinois so his examples are drawn mainly from the Americas, Africa and Asia. If you want to impress in the snug with your knowledge of the role of emmer wheat in building up to todays high yielders, this is for you.

Dictionary of Plant Pathology by Paul Holliday, £85 from Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-59453-7.

Most of the time this dictionary is going to be a boon to specialists, at other times it will be infuriating for the non-specialist seeking clear guidance but finding it hidden behind the scientific explanation. A useful tool for pathologists but tricky going for anyone who dozed off during plant science lectures.

Letters to the Editor

Hop off Europe

WHILE raising taxes on pension funds and motorists, the Government is happy to spend over £7m on promoting the Euro to firms and individuals.

Around 90% of our trade is concentrated within Britain or with countries that will not be joining the single European currency next year. Yet the official message insinuates that unless we get on the Euro bandwagon, our businesses will produce a "pathetic performance". Given that Britain trades profitably with every continent apart from Europe, that is quite a slap in the face.

There are also issues that the spin doctors would rather play down. These range from the cost and disruption in abolishing the pound to the loss of control over our economy. Most important of all is that if it doesnt work out, there is no way out. (This also seems to be ignored in William Hagues plans).

Readers wanting a more balanced view should send a SAE for our free fact sheet to: New Alliance, PO Box 13199, London SW6 6ZU.

Lynn Riley,

New Alliance.

Ballerina comeback

I WAS disappointed the article in Crops, w/e 19 September on Ballerinas performance in the presence of rhizomania. There have been no claims that this variety is totally resistant or that it is the complete answer to a disease which appears to be steadily progressing through some very important beet areas.

Rhizomania has occurred predominantly on very light soils where sugar beet is highly important to the success of the farm. At present there is no instant cure, so those farms where it has been identified and wish to continue sugar beet growing have to use all means at their disposal to minimise the spread. One of these is to use a variety such as Ballerina which is proven to reduce virus multiplication compared with susceptible varieties.

To put the performance of Ballerina into perspective, in 1997 around 300ha were grown on non-infected fields giving very acceptable results. In the NIAB trials of that year the growers income exceeded that of Aztec, Saxon, Zulu and Madison (Crops, w/e 6 June).

In the presence of a very severe artificially-induced rhizomania infection, two UK trials indicated a greater yield loss than had been expected from previous trials data from Holland. However, if a severe infection does occur, surely the 24% yield reduction of Ballerina is preferable to the 80% reduction of a susceptible variety. The use of Ballerina must be a step in the right direction in minimising the spread of the disease until the next generation of varieties is available.

Rebecca, currently in the third year of NIAB trials, has shown improved yields, bolting resistance and rhizomania resistance, and so could very soon replace Ballerina as it has in Holland, where over 10,000ha of this variety are growing in 1998.

Michael Coy,

English Sugar Beet Seed Company, Sleaford, Lincs.

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