Battling for the low spot

14 August 1999

Battling for the low spot

Light soil, low costs and milling wheat – thats what these two entrants for the World Class Wheat contest have in common. Gilly Johnson reports.

Colin Swinnerton

FIXED costs are the prime target for Staffordshire grower Colin Swinnerton. Hes diluting the machinery charge on his business by taking on contract work for neighbours.

That, together with a low cost but hopefully high yielding crop of Rialto, should put him in the running for the lowest production costs per tonne – and in the running for our £1,000 prize.

The light sandy soil at Elms Farm is drought prone, which is the rationale behind choosing Rialto, thought to be more resistant to water stress than many other wheats. But ironically theres been plenty of water this season.

Its his first time with this variety, and Mr Swinnerton is hoping it will be higher yielding than Riband – although he reckons to have spent slightly more.

The crop was established following ploughing and a pass with the power harrow, and drilled on 24 September, which is earlier than was the norm with Riband.

Expensive strobilurins were ruled out in favour of a three-spray triazole strategy. He hasnt stinted on a robust growth regulator programme to keep Rialtos weakish straw upright. Total nitrogen, including a final urea top-up, comes to 189kgN/ha.

Patch treatment against slugs and wild oats dilutes the total costs. Manganese deficiency must always treated on this soil; the Rialto had a Mn seed dressing as well as a foliar spray.

Some disease was visible when the judges visited, in particular septoria and fusarium. The field is on sloping, variable soil and the crop was ripening somewhat unevenly. But Mr Swinnerton is reasonably confident. "Id expect a 3.5t/acre crop from this field – well have to wait and see."

Gordon Davidson

PERCHED on the high ridge of Sutton Bank, N Yorks, Gordon Davison has a magnificent view from his contest field. Farming in partnership with his wife, Mary, his hopes for the contest field are also high – despite light sandy soil and an exposed position, 180m (600ft) up.

So far, the farms best yield is 9.7t/ha, achieved in the record-breaking 1996 season. Mr Davison has sought to improve the yield potential of the light soil by adding a variety of different improvers, including calcified seaweed and burnt chicken manure. This season hes gone for a proprietary humus mixture – Humitex – to boost organic matter.

Costs are being cut elsewhere – notably, slug control. Last summers wet conditions allowed Mr Davison to use his secret weapon against the slimy pests, instead of shelling out on pellets. "After straw chopping, the chaff is left on the surface to go wet and attract slugs. Then we go once over with a power harrow and it makes mincemeat of them."

Absence of growth regulators helps reduce the bills. Given the fierce Yorkshire winds, its a risk, admits Mr Davison: "But so far, so good this year. The Hereward is standing well."

Manganese treatment is applied where necessary. Deficiencies are always a hazard on the light soil and Mr Davison is familiar with particular problem areas – and patch sprays accordingly.

Some grass weeds were visible when the judges called. "I put that down to IPU failure, which could be related to the Humitex," says Mr Davison. Judge John Garstang of ADAS suggests the wet conditions might have contributed to poor grassweed control.

Will the weeds be bad enough to reduce yield? Judges consensus was that performance was not at risk. The crop looked clean and promising, despite a dry May when stress symptoms started to show, just before the June rains came to the rescue.

The farms fixed costs are low; Mr Davison built his own grain dryer and storage facility.

&#42 Location: Elms Farm, Warton, near Tamworth, Staffs

&#42 Cropping: 109ha of light soil with wheat, borage, rape and grass


Variety: Rialto, after oilseed rape

Soil type: Light sandy loam

Fertiliser: 189kg N/ha

Agchem programme:

Timing Treatment Rate/ha £/ha

Autumn IPU 4 litres £12.72

Eagle 37.5gms £20.88

Early spring Chlormequat 1 litre £1.70

Moddus 100mls £4.30

Classic Mn 750mls £4.50

Late spring Chlormequat 1 litre £1.70

Moddus 100mls £4.30

Classic Mn 750mls £4.50

Reward fung 1 litre £13.83

Contrast fung 750mls £8.00

Early summer Gladio fung 750mls £26.92

Clortosip pgr 1 litre £4.98

Guard wetter 200mls £2.36

Late summer Topic plus wetter Patch sprayed £1.78

Reward fung 750mls £10.37

Dual fung 2 litres £6.00

Prince fung 1.4 litres £2.59

Total £131.43

&#42 Location: Pry Rigg Farm, Sproxton, Helmsley, N Yorks

&#42 Cropping: 68ha of light soil with wheat, malting barley and rape. Some beef cattle


Variety: Hereward, after oilseed rape

Soil type: Sandy loam

Fertiliser: 169kg N/ha

Agchem programme:

Timing Treatment Rate/ha £/ha

Autumn Humitex 15 litres £18.00

Boron 2.5kg £3.50

CMPP 0.25 litres £1.72

IPU 3.9 litres £12.09

Spring Sportak Delta 0.5 litres £7.56

Landmark 0.5 litres £23.00

Manganese 3 litres £1.48

Summer Folicur 0.5 litres £11.50

Landmark 0.5 litres £23.00

Tomahawk 0.6 litres £11.84

Total £113.69

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