12 July 2002

Trials data beats speculation

With over 25,000

individual plots Agrovistas

trials programme is one

of the largest in the

country. The aim is to

ensure customers get

sound agronomy advice.

Charles Abel reports

NESTLED in the Yorkshire Wolds near Driffield is an 11ha (27 acre) patchwork quilt of detailed trials looking for answers to todays agronomy questions. Impressive as that may be, it is the fact there are 10 similar sites around the UK really that makes the impact.

More than 25,000 trials plots ensure recommendations from Agrovista and Fishers Seeds, both part of the Allied Group, are based on firm technical evidence not speculation, says company chairman David Caffall.

"Some people seem to make some outlandish claims about rates and varieties, but where does it all come from? Without technical trials it is only speculation."

Agrovistas approach is to base advice on detailed trials. At the heart of its programme is a unique series of Agronomic Block trials, run on every site from the south-west to Scotland, and including the same line-up of wheat and barley varieties, grown with the same inputs, applied at the same rates.

"We can then pick up trends in performance, so we can get the varietal picture across the whole of the UK at a whole raft of dose rates," says technical manager Craig Morgan.

More detailed trials clustered around the Agronomy Blocks are tailored to the region, covering pgr, N, seed rate and variety, for example.

The programme ensures field info on new inputs and varieties is available two years ahead of product launch, giving growers a real advantage once they come to the market, says Mr Morgan.

But is such fine-tuning worthwhile? Differences in response to fungicide programmes this season prove it is, says Mr Morgan, who adds that five weeks of cold April weather followed by severe disease pressure caught many growers out this season.

"You need the bank of information to work out how best to respond to circumstances like that, otherwise you are just guessing.

"This year, the benefit of eradicant kick-back activity for delayed T2 fungicides is very clear to see. We believe farmers can make more money by fine tuning, whether they are working for maximum output, minimum input or anything in-between."

It is that sort of depth of information that impresses host farmer Philip Huxtable, of JSR. "It helps us identify which variety to grow and how best to manage it in our situation. With wheat at £50-60/t it is far more critical to get it right than at £100/t." &#42

Site specific messages emerging

Harvest will reveal the main trials messages, when farmers weekly will report the highlights. Trends already emerging include:

&#8226 Take-all seed treatments may offer some differences in disease control, but how they integrate with other management measures like nitrogen rate and timing, variety, possible strob-fungicide effects and phosphite use may be more significant, says Mr Morgan. Such issues are being addressed in plots of 13 varieties drilled on Sept 11 and Oct 2 and treated with a single-purpose dressing alone or with Latitude, Jockey or Baytan. "We are particularly keen to see whether Amistar does deliver the benefits claimed by Syngenta and whether it is unique or whether other strobs also offer a benefit," says Craig Morgan.

&#8226 Applying phosphite liquid fertiliser could help combat take-all, by boosting late-autumn rooting. Application as a foliar feed could be combined with a post-em herbicide to cut field passes, says Mr Morgan. Positive yield results last year prompted trials at two sites this season. Agrovistas P-Kursor phosphite product costs about £8/ha.

&#8226 Boron could help improve seed set in cereals. Last year five out of six varieties tested at Haywold gave a positive and economic response. "It may be a way to counteract the effects of a very dull April and poor grain set, which is what we saw last year," says Jim Carswell, of Fisher Seeds.

&#8226 Sulphur applied during the growing season and at ear wash is showing a clear tendency to boost grain protein, probably because it improves nitrogen metabolism. "Sulphur levels are not particularly low on this site, because we have used pig slurry," says Philip Huxtable. "But using the malate test this spring did show we needed some extra sulphur."

&#8226 Stalosan soil improver has been evaluated as a fertiliser additive and a seed treatment. Yield increases of up to 15% are believed to stem from improved soil microbial activity leading to extra nutrient release. Trials at Haywold have given higher ear counts and improved root growth for two consecutive years. But seed treatment is not an option, because too little product can be loaded onto the seed, says Mr Carswell.

&#8226 Adjuvant Transcend has never given less than a 0.2t/ha yield response in wheat and averages 0.35-0.4t/ha for a cost of £2/ha, says Mr Morgan. The imported organo-silicone plus methylated rape oil fungicide spreader significantly boosts control as water volumes are dropped from 200 litres/ha to 100 litres/ha. "But it does not work with all mixes. We are working to see which products it gives the best effects with."