19 March 1999

CAP reform: Dont make rash cropping changes

By Andrew Blake

BEWARE of making drastic cropping changes because of the CAP reform deal agreed last week. That was the initial reaction from industry specialists earlier this week. The deal still had to be approved by EU finance ministers and heads of government.

Phased cereal intervention price cuts over two years and the reduction of oilseeds area aid to the single non-crop specific payment over three years buy time to react sensibly, they said earlier this week.

Dalgetys Gary Hutchings expected a shift to wheat, a reduction in oilseed rape and a significant reduction in linseed and pulses in the first year of Agenda 2000.

Colleague Mike Jeffes said the retention of 10% set-aside clearly eases the pressure on wheat drillings this coming autumn. But with aid differences encouraging wheat rather than other crops, back-end workloads are bound to increase.

"It is still worth investigating earlier drilling and other things like reduced cultivations which could help. It just means growers have another two years to play around with the techniques to see which suits them."

ADASs head of management consultancy Bill Hall urged growers to look critically at rotations before concluding cereals are the be all and end all. "Focus on rotations before you get carried away with the apparently more favourable treatment of cereals.

"Superficially, continuous wheat looks attractive. But when you work it out the consequences are fairly high risk, even at lower oilseed rape prices." The claimed benefits of anti take-all seed treatments have yet to be proven in widespread field use, he said.

Step-wise cuts should make it slightly easier to adjust than expected, said Martin Eudall, head of Axients arable consultancy. "My initial feeling is that the impact is probably not as detrimental as we first thought.

"You cannot look just at individual gross margins. Growers must ask whether they can handle wall-to-wall wheat – the drilling, spraying, harvesting and storage as well as grass weed control. And you must consider rotational gross margins."

Aubourns Philip Wynn added: "Unless you can control your fixed costs a rotation of wheat and set-aside just wont work."

The proposals are unlikely to make much difference to the companys cropping plans, either this spring or next autumn, Mr Wynn maintains.

CWS Agriculture general manager Mike Calvert said it was vital the proposals were ratified this month. "We need early resolution so we can plan. It would be quite disastrous if we had to wait until June."

&#8226 See p25 and p58 for more details. &#42

BPC keeps control

SUTTON Bridge Experimental Station is to remain under the ownership and management of the British Potato Council in the medium term.

Discussions with interested parties have failed to find an alternative to the axed management deal with the Rotagrow consortium comprising ADAS, SAC and Cambridge University Farms.

But BPC is also keen to make full use of other centres with storage expertise, such as Wye College and SAC Aberdeen. "We aim to co-ordinate work which complements Sutton Bridge," says R&D director Mike Storey. &#42

BPC chairman David Walker adds: "This strategy retains the experimental unit at the heart of potato industry R&D." &#42

Deficiency growth

MANGANESE deficiency is the worst for years and increasingly associated with severe mildew.

But in many areas symptoms are being masked by nitrogen-starved crop yellowing, especially in barley, ADAS warns.

Check pale crops on lighter and organic soils for pale brown flecking on limp, pale foliage, it advises. Higher incidence means wider crop checking is worthwhile this season.

Where mildew is well established and weakening the crop morpholine fungicide will need adding to the manganese application, ADAS advises. &#42

No call for pulses

PLANT breeder PBIC is ending its pulse breeding programme due to falling demand for winter bean seed. In 10 years the market has fallen from 20,000t to 6000t, it says. &#42

It pays to map weeds

MAPPING weeds and adjusting herbicides can pay. But it is not an on/off decision and specialist equipment is required, says Silsoe Research Institutes Paul Miller.

"Patch spraying is here, we can do it and it is effective." Grass weeds like blackgrass and wild oats are most likely to justify the investment, being expensive to control and frequently occurring in patches.

Savings of £40/ha on products such as Topik (clodinafop-propargyl) or Cheetah (fenoxaprop-P-ethyl) could rapidly re-pay the £10,000 cost of an injection metering system used on 1000ha, he says.

"There is at least one commercial system operating and the farmer is making big savings claims. Wild oats and blackgrass do occur in patches and these are stable year-to-year and within the season."

The patches are logged manually on a GPS system. That information is transferred to a GPS-equipped sprayer and spray rates adjusted accordingly. &#42

Spray northern OSR

IT may not be too late to get a benefit from spraying northern oilseed rape, says ADAS.

Recent rains will have encouraged splash dispersal of light leaf spot spores, which will show symptoms in three to four weeks time.

Worthwhile yield responses were achieved from spraying for phoma in autumn and mid-March last year, it notes. So a late second spray could still be beneficial crops this year, especially where light leaf spot is also present. &#42

£0.5m expansion investment

Sands Agricultural Services opened a new £500,000 central depot, lab and agronomy centre near Swaffham, Norfolk last week.

The investment is despite a realistic expectation of a downturn in the agrochemical market, a slow recovery in farm profits and increasing political intervention, said managing director Andrew Sands.

New technology will play a pivotal role in protecting future farm profits, he added. And despite current media hysteria genetically-modified crops would be widely grown by 2003, he claimed. &#42

SAC spud website

SAC has launched a new web-based information service for the potato industry. Available at www.spud.co.uk it is targeted at growers, agronomists, traders and consumers providing information and advice on growing and storing potatoes. &#42

Whos first in the field? Six new varieties are vying for best gross margin in the 1999 NIAB Variety Challenge. Fungicide, pgr and nitrogen inputs are being matched to variety by the breeder/agent, ready for yield and quality analysis at harvest. The competitor varieties are feed types Aardvark and Buchan, biscuit maker Claire and potential breadmakers Malacca, Shamrock and Shango. The highest GM wins.

Input advice

Dont be tempted into severe input cuts on the basis of CAP reform, said ADASs head of arable Julian Hayes. "Yield is as critical as ever as is hitting the right market. Both could be adversely affected by wholesale pruning of inputs."

Nitrogen, particularly when used with regard to inherent soil fertility, remains one of the most cost-effective options, he maintained. "Fungicides also generally give a very high return. Last year I came across some farms cutting out the flag leaf spray. Thats crazy."