Tackling the challenges that lay ahead

There is little doubt that Velcourt is a successful farm management company. It now farms about 52,000ha in the UK, plus more than that in Russia and the Ukraine. The company may be cautious about giving away all the secrets of its success, but visitors to stand 445 and 446 should find at least some of the answers.


The theme this year is “Farming Today – Farming Tomorrow” and the main new feature is a model farm, which aims to represent Velcourt’s own farms and provide visitors with some business pointers. “The most common question we get from visitors every year is ‘what are you doing on your own farms?’,” says technical director Keith Norman. “We hope to provide some answers and deliver practical farming messages.”


Cropping, agronomy and cost structure mirror commercial units and details of budgets and resource structure, including power and machinery, are available in and around the model farm area, he says.


Velcourt farm managers and the RSPB are also there – the latter to highlight the importance of summer and winter food and nesting sites for farmland birds. Wild bird cover and pollen and nectar mixes have been established around the edge of the site and a small cultivated area set up to highlight the differences between establishment kit.


Research insight


Alongside the model farm, the company is demonstrating some of its latest research to try to give growers answers to impending challenges, such as how to control blackgrass and annual meadowgrass without IPU or trifluralin and PGR alternatives to chlormequat. A number of products are being trialled to see the differences between various rates and timings. “We’re not advocating using one or the other, but simply highlighting how well each tool works,” says Mr Norman.


A similar principle applies to the fungicide demonstration, trials officer Paul Cartwright notes. Different rates and mixes of a number of products, including industry standards Proline (prothioconazole), Opus (epoxiconazole) and Tracker (epoxiconazole + boscalid), have been applied to plots of Cordiale at T1 or T2 only to test their preventative (T1) and curative (T2) activity.


Velcourt-crop-plots.gif


With fertiliser prices hitting new highs, perhaps one of the biggest talking points will be nutrition. “Typical fertiliser bills are likely to double in 2009, so there has to be a complete mindset change about nutrition,” says Mr Norman. “It’s high time we [as an industry] got more precise with nutrition.”


Central to the nutrition area is the nitrogen dose rate response trial, which gives visitors a taste of the larger-scale trial Velcourt is carrying out on farms in Wiltshire, Lincolnshire and Suffolk. “We are now in the fifth year of the trials, where we are varying rates from 0 to 340kg/ha N. For the majority of sites and varieties, the physical and economic optimum seems to be around 220kg/ha N.”


But with the cost of artificial N rising, it is worth considering alternative ways of enhancing soil structure and fertility, such as compost, biosolids and recycled gypsum, he says. A range of these treatments are on show and a nitrogen dose rate response trial has been superimposed on top.


Future varieties


A new “discovery area” shows how Velcourt is working with the DEFRA-funded Wheat Genetic Improvement Network (WGIN) project to find ways of incorporating the strong disease resistance characteristics of Einkorn (diploid) wheat into modern hexaploid varieties. Plots show the varieties on their own, plus a conventional back-cross of the two.


As a separate part of the WGIN project, mutations of Paragon spring wheat produced by the John Innes Centre are on display. These will be used to identify genes responsible for desirable traits. “It’s predominantly septoria and rust traits we’re looking at, but there are others,” says Mr Norman.


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