UNIT COST CHALLENGE 2002
Flag leaf sprays are on and
ear washes are waiting in
the wings for the Unit Cost
Challenge finalists chosen
fields of wheat. Which will
produce the lowest cost of
production/t remains to be
seen but already there are
big differences in the
contestants confidence in
Andrew Swallow reports
Option on course for good yield
WITH flag leaf sprays on and ears just emerging Peter Robertson is confident his Unit Cost Challenge crop of Option at Palace Farm, Jedburgh, will at least match the farms rolling average yield of 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) and, hopefully, land a premium to boot.
"I doubt we will get top quality, but, hopefully, protein will be in the mid-12s with a reasonable Hagberg so we get a £5 or £6/t premium."
But the weather will have to improve first, he notes. "We could badly do with a spell of warm sunny weather. We have had a fortnight of heavy showers and the forecast is not good either."
A flag-leaf fungicide mix of 0.5 litre/ha Amistar (azoxystrobin) and 0.5 litre/ha Beam (spiroxamine + tebuconazole), plus 12.5kg/ha of Bittersalz, went on in good time at full flag-leaf on May 31. Only a little mildew and septoria low down in the canopy was visible at the time suggesting the Bravo/Eminent (chlorothalonil/ tetraconazole) T1 fungicide mix had done a good job. "And the crop feels pretty stiff, too," says Mr Robertson in light of the one-hit pgr policy of 2.3 litres/ha of chlormequat with the T1.
More Bittersalz, Amistar, and possibly a triazole is planned for T3, but not before July. "I like to leave a reasonable gap between sprays." In the meantime the last 43kg/ha (34 units/acre) of solid ammonium nitrate will go on to try to keep protein content up.
The one hiccup in the crops progress has been with herbicides, a shower after the spring mix of low-rate Ally (metsulfuron-methyl) plus CMPP reducing control of volunteer oilseed rape and chickweed. "They are stronger than we would like but we never aim for 100% control and I doubt there will be any effect on yield."
Managements lean, mean U-turn
WET weather and tumbling new product prices have prompted Christopher and David Moore to make a management U-turn with their Nov-drilled Savannah Unit Cost Challenge entry at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick, in North Lincs.
"I have to admit we have changed course," says Christopher. "I was going to go for old chemistry to keep the input costs as low as possible, but the competition is yield driven and new product prices have dropped by about 25%."
After an Opus (epoxiconazole) plus Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) T1 spray, in line with the original lean-mean plan, two 0.75 litre/ha doses of Opera (pyraclostrobin + epoxiconazole) have been applied.
The first went on in tank-mix with Ally (metsulfuron-methyl) and Bettaquat (chlormequat) when the flag leaf was just peeping out on May 8, and the second on the Saturday of the Jubilee weekend.
First nitrogen, 92kg/ha (74 units/acre) as urea, went on just before the last reasonable rain in March and a second dose of the same went on in early May. Rains return at the end of April could not have been better, says Mr Moore.
"We have been very fortunate. The biggest risk with late-drilled crops is a May drought, but it was dry when it needed to be and the crop has never stopped growing." Now it is on course for a budget busting 10t/ha (4t/acre) with savings on herbicides, pgrs and early fungicides in the bag thanks to late drilling.
"But the main thing we hope to save money on is with our fixed costs," he says. That is despite a new combine for the 263ha (650 acres) of combinable crops on the farm.
"It is not big and we got a good deal on it. We will look after it and keep it for 10 years. I am confident we can keep costs well under contractor charges."
April brings a drought doubt
DRY spring weather, gout fly and non-plough cultivation have left Lincs farm manager James Brook fearing his competition crop of Claire at Norton Place Estate will fall too short on yield to challenge the unit cost of production from the silt-land sowings of Mr Means and Mr Moore.
But the thinner canopy on the clay-loam soil has allowed disease control costs to be paired with excellent results. As of last week every tiller had five spotless leaves with only a little mildew visible in the base of the crop.
Opus (epoxiconazole) plus Twist (trifloxystrobin) has been the backbone of the programme so far, with 0.25 litre/ha and 0.4 litre/ha, respectively, applied as the T1 spray on Apr 23, followed by a 0.3 litre/ha and 0.5 litre/ha mix for the flag leaf on May 29.
Newer strobilurins were passed over on account of Claires good septoria and rust resistance and greater confidence in reduced rates with Twist based on ARC and HGCA work. "If it was Consort then we might have been tempted to try some Opera."
An ear-spray will go on soon with a reasonable rate of Amistar (azoxystrobin) used to prolong the green leaf area and eke out every possible bit of yield potential from the crop. "A lot of people try to make savings with the ear-spray but it is still a long time until harvest and I place a high value on it," stresses Mr Brook.
Autumn weed control of ipu plus CMPP has also worked well with no spring follow-up needed, despite the more open canopy than planned. But the crop is playing catch-up now and will need kind weather to keep it going if it is to yield anything like Mr Brooks original 10t/ha (4t/acre) target. "I reckon we have lost at least 1-2t/ha already," he says.
Ear count cause for concern
ARE there enough ears/sq m for maximum yield?
That was the question worrying Mark Means at The Laurels, Terrington St Clement, near Kings Lynn, as his September-sown challenge crop of Consort approached anthesis.
But assessments last week revealed an average 497 ears/sq m. "That is just about where we want to be, even though it looks a bit thin," he says.
A final 47kg/ha (38 units/ acre) of nitrogen as ammonium nitrate went on in the last week of May, topping up the 175kg/ha (140 units/acre) from urea in early April and early May splits. "The aim is to give the crop the nitrogen when it needs it and not to make it fall over. Using urea has given us an extra 80kg/ha of nitrogen for the same cost."
The flag leaf spray, a mix of 0.95 litre/ha Opera (pyraclostrobin + epoxiconazole) plus Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride), was applied on May 10 with the crop just past GS37. Starane (fluroxypyr) was added on the headlands to take out cleavers but the few weeds in middle of the field were deemed uneconomic to control.
"The autumn ipu/dff did a good job. There might be the odd poppy, but they wont knock yield."
Earlier concerns that the April 5 T1 spray was too early (Arable, Apr 19) have proved unfounded. All the upper leaves are clean with septoria only now becoming visible on leaf four of the main tillers, he adds.
For the flag leaf spray water volume and pressure were increased in the middle of the field to produce a finer spray with the aim of improving coverage. "I am happy it has done a good job, too."
A pre-Cereals event ear-spray was planned, probably an Amistar/ Folicur (azoxystrobin/tebuconazole) mix aimed at topping up septoria and brown rust protection more than fusarium control. "I shall be disappointed if it yields less than 11t/ha," he says. *
A message from the sponsor
BASF is committed to the advance of crop protection in the UK and is delighted to again sponsor the Unit Cost Challenge Competition. Each year the contest has shown that cereals can be grown profitably in the UK despite the sliding price of grain and increasing market pressures. Last years winner drove costs down to less than £25/t before rent, property and administration. This year we have broken with tradition by bringing the previous Challenge winners together to compete to be the "lowest of the low" in terms of unit cost of production. The winner will receive the Unit Cost Challenge Trophy plus £2000-worth of Opera for 2003 – a prize that is guaranteed to drive down the cost of production. BASF is pleased that the competitors agronomists are also participating. We see this as an acknowledgement of the agronomists important and continuing role in providing sound advice.