29 May 1998


Producing the greatest net

margin possible a tonne of

winter wheat. That is the

goal of the six teams

competing in this years

Lloyds Bank Farmer Group

Challenge. Andrew Swallow

reports on progress to date

DESPITE a common goal the methods and philosophies of this years entrants in the Lloyds Bank Farmer Group Challenge differ markedly.

All want to achieve the highest margin a tonne of wheat so they can lift the Black Horse trophy at the end of the season. But the strategies being deployed to achieve that vary tremendously.

At one extreme host farm manager Chris Redfearn is going all out for yield with his plot of high input Equinox. He has already spent three times more on fungicides than the lowest spending team.

At the other extreme the Sleaford Farmers team is backing an economical, environmentally friendly approach going through the crop as little as possible.

By early May plots already looked markedly different. Equinox grown by the Southern LADS (Lincolnshire Arable Discussion Society) team was blooming with health, just like host farm manager Chris Redfearns. But both crops will need to perform well to produce the budgeted yields of over 10t/ha to cover input costs.

By contrast the two crops of Consort appeared stressed. But that is typical of the variety says Northern LADS. An open canopy in Alford Agronomys Rialto may be the result of weather delayed nitrogen. The team believes its 9.75t/ha, 11% protein milling yield is possible.

Variety choice

Quality and premium at the expense of yield, or a barn-filling feed wheat? A team decision had to be made.

Only De Montfort University chose a group I milling wheat in Abbot. It believes feed wheat price prospects are poor, particularly as produce has to be sold by October under competition rules, so adding value with a milling premium is a cornerstone of the strategy.

Feeder Equinox found favour, with two teams aiming to capitalise on its yield potential with high input programmes. Budgeted yields of 10.5t/ha and 11t/ha are forecast by the Host Farmer and Southern LADS teams respectively.

Yield potential, possible biscuit premiums and all-round disease resistance lead the Sleaford Farmers team to grow Consort, but for the Northern LADS it was something of a second choice compromise. Team members first choices included Rialto, Equinox and Riband, but in the end a consensus was reached on Consort based on positive personal experiences with the variety, says David Pridgeon, team spokesperson.

With Rialto Alford Agronomy Group aim to profit from feed yields with milling premiums for the group II variety. They locked into a contract which guarantees a £12 premium over feed back in the autumn, a wise decision now say team members.


Seed-bed conditions were described as good by all the teams following the disc and press preparations on the site. However, surface trash and moist conditions were ideal for slugs in the opinion of host farm manager Chris Redfearn, who was the first to drill on Sep 17.

"It had all the right conditions for a high slug population." Slug pellets went on at 15kg/ha at drilling. A seed rate of 250 seeds/sq m has more than achieved his target plant population of 210-220 plants/sq m this spring.

De Montfort University also applied slug pellets, but other teams relied on rolling. Southern LADS team member Andrew Branton admits slugs were a concern. David Pridgeon of the Northern LADS team believes pelleting on neighbouring plots helped.

All teams were drilled up by Oct 3, with no establishment problems. Seed rates ranged from a calculated quantity of seeds/sq m approach, to the Northern LADS more traditional method. "We went with 12 stone/acre, plus a stone for the crows," says David Pridgeon. "It equated to 170kg/ha, a bit heavy with hindsight. But conditions were drying fast when we drilled."

Weed control

Abbot growers De Montfort University again bucked the trend, opting to miss out on autumn herbicides and insecticides completely.

"There was not much there at the time and we did not want to check the crop. Weve had no problems with weed competition," says team member Michael Dungworth. Ally Express (metsulfuron-methyl + carfentrazone-ethyl) was applied on Mar 13 to tackle broad-leaved weeds and cleavers.

All other competitors used autumn programmes focused on different rates of IPU (isoproturon) mixes, plus cypermethrin for BYDV control.

The Southern LADS approach is short-term and rates have been cut accordingly. "Its a one year competition – were not worried about every last wild oat," says Nigel Patrick. Isoproturon at 1.0 litres/ha was mixed with Javelin Gold (isoproturon + diflufenican) and cypermethrin.

Alford Agronomys Peter Pridgeon felt blackgrass pressure was not severe and settled for 3.5 litres/ha of IPU, but son David on the Northern Lads team had been warned that blackgrass could be severe on the site. "We went with a full 5.0 litres/ha of IPU – Its cheap and good value," he maintains. The team has followed up with a spring Ally/Eagle (metsulfuron-methyl /amidosulfuron) spray to take out cleavers, speedwells, deadnettle and chickweed.

The Southern LADS team is planning an Ally + Starane (fluroxypyr) mix at flag leaf, but other teams are taking a wait-and-see approach to occasional cleavers and deadnettle in their plots. "We can always take out cleavers at GS 39," comments Alford team member Simon Roughton.

At the end of April symptoms of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus were not evident. But host farmer Mr Redfearn believes his two applications of cypermethrin were justified. "The aphids were about and it was a mild autumn," he says. Other teams went with a single application except De Montfort, who did not go through the crop at all until March.

Crop nutrition

April rains upset some nitrogen plans. But by Apr 22 all crops had received their main doses.

Sleaford Agronomys Consort had nothing until Apr 22, when 175kg/ha of nitrogen as urea went on. "We were delayed due to the weather, but weve been lucky to miss all the rain," says David Leech. Urea was used to keep cost down, he says.

By contrast the Southern LADS team was pleased its Equinox had its 175kg/ha before the rain. Despite possible losses they do not believe it will run out, says team member Andrew Branton.


All T1 applications had been made by the end of April. But crops were still to receive flag-leaf sprays. Spending varies enormously, with the highest at triple the lowest cost to date.

Alford Agronomy is taking a little-and-often approach. Opus (epoxiconazole) at 0.15 litres/ha on Mar 31 was followed by 0.3 litres/ha of Mantra (Kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph) on Apr 22.

"You have got to pay attention to all costs with grain prices so low. We give it a bit every time we go through the crop," says team member Simon Roughton. Another fungicide, probably strobilurin-based, will be applied at flag-leaf before an ear-wash, vital for milling quality believes Peter Pridgeon. Terpal at GS 32 completes their PGR plans for the crop of Rialto.

However, De Montfort University has achieved the lowest costs so far with an Epic/Corbel (epoxiconazole/chlorothalonil ) mix.

At the other extreme, host farmer Chris Redfearn reckons there is no point spoiling the ship for a hapenny worth of tar. His mix of Amistar (azoxystrobin), Unix (cyprodinil) and Opus on Mar 13 took care of Septoria and stem base diseases. "Were on course for a budgeted yield of 10.5t/ha, provided we get a good summer," he says.

The competition is a chance for teams to trial new chemistry too, says David Pridgeon of the Northern LADS team. It has tried 0.5 litres/ha of Mantra at GS31.

For the Southern LADS Amistar provides flexibility with mixing products, but they may try some kresoxim-based product at flag-leaf says Nigel Patrick. A third PGR is not ruled out for the high input, high output crop of Equinox.

"We feel the NIAB rating of 9 for standing is a little generous, so we may top up the PGRs later," adds Mr Branton, who believes the plot scale of the competition will help them achieve their budget yield of 11t/ha.

With the all important flag-leaf sprays to go on, and many marketing decisions still to be made, the contest is by no means decided. In early May, only the Southern LADS team had bitten the hard marketing bullet and sold half their budget tonnage at £76/t for feed.

Plots can be seen at the event. But with every last grain of yield crucial the teams take plot inspections seriously. "Pulling up a plant, or removing an ear is a hanging offence," says one of the De Montfort team members.

De Montfort Universitys Abbot

is part of college course work,

but with no autumn herbicide,

is it the right lesson?

The Southern LADS team is shooting for 550 ears/sq m to produce 11t/ha from this crop.

Budgets – and the costs so far

Variable costs Output budget Budget margin (before IACS)

Team Budget Actual to Apr 30 % of Budget Yield t/ha Price (£/t) £/ha £/t

(£) (£) to Apr 30

Haverholme Estate 218.00 206.00 94 10.5 85 59.50 5.67

Southern LADS – 176.60 – 11.0 – – –

Northern LADS 173.50 163.88 94 10.0 88 112.10 11.21

Alford Agronomy Group 158.72 146.68 92 9.75 94 138.08 14.16

Sleaford Farmers 194.23 140.42 72 9.70 85 65.17 6.72

De Montfort University 210.00 150.11 71 8.00 108 84.00 10.50

Cereals 97 winning formula

Huntingdon Snifters on the clay soil of Bill Turneys Weybridge Farm, Alconbury, Cambs.


Variety: Charger

Costs (£/ha)

Seed 48.83

Fertiliser 73.65

Chemicals 35.11

Total variable costs 157.59

Application costs 188.20

Fixed costs 372.50

Total Costs 718.29


Yield 8.8t/ha

Sold at £104/t (including £18/t bread-making premium)

Output £/ha 915.20

Profit £/ha 196.91

(excluding IACS)

Cost £/t 81.63

Profit £/t 22.37

(£51.60/t including IACS)

The plots of wheat represent a 15ha field and are replicated to avoid field conditions biasing results. Operations are carried out on team instruction by the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Inputs are costed at local distributor prices and operational charges made according to John Nix figures.

Little and often will keep this crop of Rialto on course for a £12/t milling premium, says Alford Agronomy Group.

On course for 10.5t/ha? Host farm manager Chris Redfearn thinks

his plots of Equinox promise

well, given a good summer .

The competition is an opportunity to try out some new chemistry says Northern LADS spokesperson, David Pridgeon.


(As provided to teams)

&#8226 Soil type: Beccles series 3, sandy clay loam.

&#8226 Previous cropping: OSR (97), winter barley (96), wheat (95).

&#8226 Cultivations:

Aug 4: Disc, subsoil + press combination

Aug 7: Disc + press combination

Aug 11: Disc + press combination

&#8226 Average 1st & 2nd wheat yields: 9.25 t/ha.

&#8226 Rainfall (annual, 21-year average): 555mm (22.5in).

&#8226 Weed Spectrum:

A scattering of wild oats and blackgrass.

Broad-leaved weeds including cleavers.

Application charges are under the microscope – Sleaford Farmers strategy is to go through the crop as little as possible.


At the Cereals Event visitors can assess the potential of the Farmer Challenge crops for themselves. If you can correctly predict the winning team and get closest to its winning margin a tonne you could win a jeroboam of champagne. Visiting those plots could be more worthwhile than you thought!