21 May 1999

£33/ha boost from levy work

By Andrew Blake

IGNORING Home-Grown Cereals Authority research can be costly, is the message from the first independent study of its benefits.

The assessment showed that putting the results from just three key research areas into practice raised margins by £33/ha (£13.35/acre).

At any one time about 130 industry-funded projects are under way.

The appraisal, on Manor Farm, Morley, Norfolk, used a computer model to investigate the effects of independent variety evaluation, improved fungicide use and changes in sowing date and seed rate spurred by HGCA research.

The model, a linear program developed at Silsoe Research Institute, allowed any changes due to weather, prices and non-HGCA-funded advances to be eliminated, explains co-investigator David Bolton of Andersons.

Using 1998 as base it effectively wound the clock back to remove four years of technological progress, says project colleague Peter Riley of Morley Agricultural Consultants.

A computer test forecast giving a net margin of £165,576 against the real prediction of £167,858 for the 367ha (907-acre) farm proved the validity of the program, says Mr Bolton. "It gave us the confidence to go ahead."

Using the UK Recommended Lists, funded entirely by HGCA, to choose optimum varieties instead of relying on random selection, was considered to be worth 5.5% of yield in winter wheat and 3.7% in winter and spring barley over the period, based on NIAB work.

Fungicide response work partly paid for by the HGCA levy has helped fine-tune inputs at Morley, says Mr Riley. "We came to the conclusion that without it more inputs would have been used." The model estimated savings equivalent to 0.25 and 0.15 litres/ha of epoxiconazole for winter wheat and winter barley, respectively.

Four years ago Sept 24 was considered the optimum sowing date for winter wheat at Morley. "We did not risk drilling before then because of fears for disease and other problems." Technical improvements mean Sept 10 can now be contemplated and HGCA research shows seed rates could safely be cut by 20kg/ha, he says.

Building these changes into the program showed that without them the farm would have grown 26ha (64 acres) fewer winter cereals in 1998 and 31ha (77 acres) more spring barley, and winter beans would have been dropped. Sugar beet and linseed areas would have stayed much the same. In reality the assessment suggests adopting HGCA-driven work in these three areas alone lifted gross margin by £8659, and cut labour and machinery costs by £3366, a boost to overall margin of over £12,000.

Over the same four years about £1800 of the total HGCA levy of £2600 collected from the farm has gone on research and development. "So there has been a good pay-back," says Mr Bolton. &#42

HGCAaims to spread word about R&D

Ensuring more growers take advantage of the research and development messages they pay for through the levy is a key aim of the HGCAs new business plan.

Triggered by the governments quinquennial review, Plan 2000 has been drawn up in the light of 16 recent focus group meetings of growers and processors whose findings highlighted how few levy payers were aware of the HGCA or its communications or were confused about what it tries to achieve. "It did not make comfortable reading," says chief executive Paul Biscoe.

The latest plan focuses strongly on industry profitability, says Dr Biscoe. Among new activities there will be an interactive web-site. "We have had a lot of requests for on-line access to data for decision-making."

A fresh reporting system to disseminate research results rapidly and widely, even though they may only be interim, is also being introduced. "We are committed to communication with all levy payers," stresses Dr Biscoe. "The problem at the moment is that we dont know who pays the levy."

Negotiations to allow all IACS-registered growers to request HGCA information via MAFF could mean that obstacle is removed by the autumn, he adds.

N Sensor at work. Fishers Seeds & Grain of Driffield, Yorks, put the Hydro Agri gadget through its paces, adjusting second split N according to crop greenness. Evening-up N supply after muck is particularly valuable, says Adrian Styche of Fishers. One satisfied customer is Andrew Woodmansey of Bentley, Beverley, who used N Sensor to balance dairy muck use. Bagged N rate varied from 40-100kg/ha, of N with less being applied to the field in total.

Protein offers N clue

IF wheat protein content is less than 10% at harvest in either feed or milling samples you have probably got the nitrogen management wrong.

"Less than 10% protein usually means yield was sub-optimal, too," says CPB Twyfords John Blackman. "Either too little nitrogen was applied, or it went on too early."

Frequently the latter is the case now, as modern equipment allows growers to get on with spring work earlier. Few can avoid the temptation to top-dress once a neighbour has started, he says.

On the companys own trial crops 200 kg/ha (160 units/acre) of N will be used in total, but half of that will not be applied until flag leaf this year.

"You have to stoke the fire at the right time. Not much N is needed for the canopy, but we do need the nitrogen later to build high yields. And holding back the N does make disease management easier," he says.

Advances in varietal standing power have added to the problem, allowing growers to get away with applying too much nitrogen, too early, without suffering flat crops.

"We were better at nitrogen management 10 years ago than we are now. Then we had weaker varieties and took longer to do the job. Why is it the yields of 1984 have not been repeated?"

In recent years high yields have tended to follow a dry April/May period. "By default growers got the nitrogen right. Crops did not take it up too early because it was too dry," he notes.

Proof that many are getting crop nutrition wrong is the 7.5t/ha (3t/acre) average national yield.

"With todays varieties, if you are not getting 10t/ha from first wheats then you should give up farming and take up knitting," he concludes. &#42