Farmer Focus: Dry weather doesn’t equal fungicide savings

Well, there’s always something wrong with the weather – this time it is lack of rain. A mere 8mm in April has turned ground that was too wet to drill until rather later than usual into an arid, rocky desert.

Every time it is dry at this time of year my father mentions that “it’s shaping up like ’76.” Fortunately, as yet, it has never actually turned into another ’76. In fact, I’m told it was also like this in 1984 until a downpour on 20 May lead the way to record yields.

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Of course, it is folly to write about the rain, as it usually changes to the opposite by the time of publication. Let us hope this proves to be the case.

The dry weather initiated an interesting debate at our latest local Niab field day. In the old days, if you had relatively disease-resistant varieties plus a very dry period and hence extremely clean plants you would naturally save money on fungicides, especially if grain prices happened to be low.

However, the contention now is that we have no curative action against septoria available to us and so can only hope to protect. This therefore means we must spend at T1 (including an SDHI), regardless of the situation, as insurance against a change in the weather.

Unfortunately, this would mean we are just following a template and have been further sucked into the expensive chemical whirlpool, but maybe we have no other way at the moment? Personally, we’ve saved money compared with last year… or have we?

I’ve just had the pleasure to read about some ideas from Rothamsted Research’s evolving strategy, which includes such gems as ensuring all research actually has an eventual practical purpose, a lot more listening to farmers about what is actually needed and more co-ordination and collaboration between organisations.

Three cheers! This is excellent news and a line I hope more institutions involved in agricultural research will take. Perhaps if we have one near us we should be contacting them to see if our local agronomy group or farming club could visit and vice versa?

Andy Barr

Andy farms 630ha on a mixed family farm in Kent, including 430ha mainly of winter wheat, oilseed rape and spring barley. The rest is in an OELS scheme and grazing for 500 Romney ewes and 40 Sussex cattle.