22 March 2002

On course for a better approach to protection

By Edward Long

GAINING a BASIS qualification has totally changed a Suffolk farmers approach to spraying, leading to cash savings and improved control of weeds, pests and diseases.

For 10 years, John Taylor has been responsible for crop protection on FG Taylor & Sons 600ha (1522 acres) of chalky boulder clay at Grove Farm, Clopton, Woodbridge, which he runs with his father, Richard.

Last year, he gained his BASIS qualification and was the first winner of the Barrie Orme Shield, awarded to the top candidate in the nationwide scheme.

The BASIS qualification has totally changed the approach to spraying at Grove Farm, where cropping includes 310ha winter wheat, 68ha winter barley, 30ha spring barley, 95ha oilseed rape and 42ha winter beans.

Water volumes have been halved to 100 litres/ha, nozzles are matched to the target and every action/option has to be justified.

"With less downtime when our 24m Bateman is refilling a greater output is achieved, so timeliness is better and overheads reduced," says Mr Taylor.

"Together with greater spraying efficiency and savings achieved by cutting out unnecessary treatments, that will cut costs and boost margins.

"I decided to go for the qualification because I felt it would be good for the business and my general farming knowledge. Everyone is more aware of safety and environmental issues and, as a member of LEAF and ACCS, we must justify any spray decision, not just follow a recommendation."

Having walked the farm with agronomist Robert Cornell, of Morley Agricultural Consultants, for several years and being responsible for pesticide planning and purchasing, Mr Taylor wanted to know more about the theory of chemical use and how agronomists make decisions.

In winter 1998, he completed two courses with the Otley and Orwell Training Group gaining certificates in crop protection management and integrated crop management.

Those were geared to the needs of practical farmers. But Mr Taylor, neighbouring farm manager James Moldon and nearby farmer Sam Faires decided to delve deeper and enrol on a BASIS course.

They were put in touch with the Fakenham and Dereham Training Group, which was offering a course in Attleborough, Norfolk. The trio then discovered funds were available under the England Rural Development Scheme, part of the governments vocational training initiative, to cover £700 of the £1150 cost.

"We did not need a cash carrot, but it was a welcome bonus," says Mr Taylor.

"Our tutor, Mike Gill of Lynch-Pin Associates, enthused us and made it interesting. It was great fun and we learnt a lot.

"There was friendly rivalry between the three Suffolk candidates, none of us contemplated failure. We met between formal sessions to walk each others farms and revise. It made a wet winter go very quickly." &#42

BASIS COURSE DETAILS

&#8226 14 days of classroom lectures and farm visits between November and February.

&#8226 Subjects included weed recognition, chemical groups, modes of action, formulations and legislation/regulations, plus nutrition, environment and integrated crop management, with days devoted to cereals, oilseeds, pulses, potatoes and sugar beet.

&#8226 Project included – Mr Taylor compared winter rape establishment using Autocast and min-till systems.

&#8226 Two-day written and oral exam in March, including multiple choice written paper plus practical test to identify weed, pest, disease, nutrition deficiencies and soil types. Second day in-field and in-store practical tests on production, storage, legislation and safety.

&#8226 Sixteen of the 18 candidates were farmers or farm managers, most aged 30-40.

&#8226 About 150 BASIS candidates nationally in 2001, almost half farmers.