5 May 1995

Teams look to high outputs for best returns

Six teams are battling it out to win the 1995 Lloyds Bank Farmer Challenge. Management decisions may differ but they all agree on one point – yield is vital. Robert Harris reports

YIELD is the key to this years competition. All the teams have chosen high output feed wheats to coax the best gross margins from the sandy loam soils of the Cereals 95 site at Shuttleworth College.

Aubourn Farming/Savills was one of four teams to drill Brigadier. Team member Bridget Carroll sums up the general opinion. "It is a very high-yielding variety with reasonable disease resistance and it stands well. Feed wheats are more consistent than milling wheats, which just dont come up with the goods on our own soils."

Home team, Shuttleworth College, chose Hunter. "It yields well under a low fungicide regime, so we should be able to cut some costs," says Robert Farrow.

Steeple Bumpstead Discussion Club favours Hussar. "We are managing the plots from a distance, so we wanted to avoid any nasty surprises. It also has good straw length, which should help bushel weight on the light soil," reasons Patrick Waite.

First to drill

His team was the first to drill, on Sept 22. But the quick-emerging plots attracted birds. "There was nothing else on the site, so the rooks and pheasants had a field day," notes Paul Towns. Some redrilling helped, though plots remain uneven. "They should look better when they come into ear."

The Association of Independ-ent Crop Consultants and Shuttle-worth Arable Study Group sowed five days later. Both used the lowest seed rates of 150kg/ha (1.2cwt/acre) to give 300/sq m. "Brigadier tillers reasonably well – it is a droughty site and we didnt want too many ears," says the AICCs Peter Taylor.

Others drilled in early October. They felt such a fertile site – the wheat follows early potatoes followed by a fertilised grass ley sown for an exhibition site last summer – warranted the delay. Despite that, Aubourn Farming/Savills applied five bags a hectare (2/acre) of 0-24-24, reflecting their commercial approach to the competition. "We are trying to maintain resources, not just use those that are there," explains Neil Meadows.

Last years winners, Huntingdon were the only group to apply slug pellets, using a half rate of minis down the spout to keep costs in check. "You can get problems after potatoes. If we had known the local history we may have changed our minds, but it was a very cheap input," says John Woodward.

All groups tackled weeds in the autumn. There was little blackgrass on the site, Shuttleworth College had more than some, so chose a full rate of IPU. Some shepherds purse, groundsel and chickweed has returned and may be cleaned up with Ally (metsulfuron-methyl).

Most popular choice

The most popular choice was varying mixes of Panther (diflufenican +IPU) and IPU to tackle meadowgrass and broad-leaved weeds, four teams took this approach. Aub-ourn/Savills added some Starane (fluroxypyr) to take out volunteer potatoes, and Shuttleworth Arable Study Group included a half-rate Duplosan (CMPP) to remove rape and runch.

Steeple Bumpstead is the only other group to overspray – their 2 litres/ha (1.4pt/acre) of Panther was applied late while they waited to see if the frit fly that appeared merited an insecticide inclusion. It did not, but the delay meant weeds were large, and Ally was needed last week to clear surviving rape, chickweed and deadnettle.

They were the only group to apply a wheat bulb fly spray. "We were told it was in the area and we couldnt risk losing any plants from the thin stand," says Stephen Graves.

The group has applied 190kg/ha (152 units/acre) of N in two splits, the first in the last week of March and the second four weeks later. Most others chose similar levels, but Shuttleworth Arable Study Group and Huntingdon put all theirs on in a single application on Apr 10 to save costs. "The plots looked well early on and we didnt want too many tillers giving thin grain," says the formers Mark Brinkley.

His is the only team to omit growth regulator. All others have applied chlormequat at or near full rate in one application. Septoria is the main disease – both nodorum and tritici are present – mostly confined to the lower dying leaves. Half the teams have tackled this with a reduced rate triazole in mid-April, the rest will follow at the end of the month. &#42

Readers will get the chance to view plots and quiz teams in this years Lloyds Bank Farmer Challenge at Cereals 95. The event takes place at Shuttleworth College, Beds, on June 14 and 15.