7 April 2000

Look to canopy for cost cuts

Exploiting the potential for

reducing feed costs was the

theme at The Maize Growers

Associations whole-crop

conference at Garstang,

Lancs. Jeremy Hunt reports

LIVESTOCK producers considering whole-crop forages could save up to £30/ha (£12/acre) on the growing costs of cereals by substantial reductions in seed sowing rates and by crop canopy management.

But Chris Rigley, an agronomist who looks after 7083ha (17,000 acres) of cereals in Yorks for United Agri-products (UPA), admitted that a leap of faith was needed by those prepared to look at canopy management.

"Manipulating the canopy or the amount of green matter per unit area is not necessarily a new science, but the expected decrease in the value of a tonne of wheat certainly concentrates the mind.

"At a forecasted value of £60/t, the variable costs, and, therefore, the cost a tonne of production, must be scrutinised."

Mr Rigley said farmers should now aim to capitalise on the genetic potential of modern wheat varieties. Traditional seed rates of 375 seeds/sq m could be cut to 100/sq m and still achieve yields of 12.3t/ha (5t/acre) if crop husbandry was based on effective canopy management. "There are huge cost savings with canopy management and on one unit I have saved as much as £57/ha with no adverse effect on yield," said Mr Rigley.

He said producers should not assume that thick, green crops would produce a heavy yield because such crops could often increase the risk of drought conditions. "Open crops can often be more drought tolerant," he told the conference.

Farmers considering canopy management must start with a seeding rate that would achieve the target plant population. Plant population and tiller numbers must be monitored throughout the autumn and spring to achieve a benchmark of 1000 tillers/sq m at Growth Stage 31.

"Although crops that are more open need careful monitoring at critical stages and strobilurin treatments will play a vital role in management, canopy manipulation has an important role to play at a time when we must strive to create more for less," said Mr Rigley.

CANOPYMANAGEMENT

&#8226 Can cut growing costs.

&#8226 Good management vital.

&#8226 Monitor at key stages.