Consider alternative crops

19 March 1999

Target inputs to cut unit costs and improve yields

By Charles Abel

BETTER input targeting rather than a padlock on the cheque book is the key to protecting crop profits at reduced prices.

That is the picture to emerge from six years of crop recording through ProCams Crop Manage-ment System. The computerised service now provides data on input use, yield and margin responses for 17,000ha (42,500 acres).

"Last year the average and top 25% producers spent similar am-ounts on wheat inputs. But the top 25% targeted their inputs better for higher yields and lower unit costs," says CMS manager Helen Allen.

Significantly, fungicide spend among the top 25% producers dropped off less rapidly for more resistant varieties than among average producers.

"That was probably because those varieties still give good responses to fungicides, which can be capitalised upon."

The work also shows the value of trace elements. Winter rape receiving no extra nutrients averaged 3.38t/ha. Top-up sulphur applied at stem extension boosted output marginally to 3.42t/ha. But applying Photrel trace element mix added 0.45t/ha. Combining the two gave 0.6t/ha extra – a yield boost of 17%. &#42

Lodging lesson

Results for Rialto clearly show the need to tailor pgr use to specific lodging pressures, notes Helen Allen. Although rated six for lodging resistance it gave an on-farm yield response to pgr of only 0.84t/ha, similar to Herewards 0.98t/ha and less than Brigadiers 1.74t/ha. Yet Hereward is rated 8 and Brigadier 7. "This shows the importance of targeting the right type of lodging. Rialto is most prone to root lodging, which demands an early pgr sequence, starting at GS26." Using an inappropriate pgr programme will not provide the yield response suggested by a varietys rating, she says.

Ave Top 25%

Seed 43 44

Fertiliser 83 63

Spray 127 124

Total 253 232

Yield (t/ha ) 8.1 8.7

Unit cost (£/t) 31.34 26.66

Consider alternative crops

ALTERNATIVE crops offer arable farmers real prospects for protecting future incomes, says Melvyn Askew, head of alternative crops and biotechnology at the Central Science Laboratory, at Sand Hutton, York.

Delivering the first Marsden memorial lecture at the Riseholme Campus of De Montfort University, Lincoln, he stressed that farmers were stewards of the countryside and that they needed to grow the crops their customers wanted.

"Those may not always be food crops. There will be new crops and new products." If the cellulose content of wheat straw could be raised to 55% – which should not be difficult – straw could compete with hardwoods in paper manufacture, he suggested.

"It would not be long before people were asking why virgin forests were being chopped down when paper could be made from an abundance of wheat straw."

Meeting targets for energy production from biomass by 2010 will involve planting 200,000ha (494,200 acres) of short rotation coppice, he added. The first wood burning power station is being built near Selby. "It is not a toy."

Other possibilities include oil from calendula, used in plastics and surfacing coatings. The oil is unique and has a market, but so far cropping has not been commercially viable. But within a few years a Dutch company could be requiring 5000ha (12355 acres), he said.

Soya is also moving north. With the introduction of cold tolerance, through breeding or genetic modification, it could be grown as far north as Lincs in 10 years. There is also a market for natural fibres from hemp and flax, to replace 80,000t of fibreglass used in the west European motor industry. &#42

BLACKGRASS and wild oats are challenging targets for foliar gram- inicides, especially when sheltered by a strongly growing cereal crop.

Best bet is to use a nozzle no larger than a 110-04 applying no more than 200 litres/ha (18gal/acre) and avoid hollow cone or 80í jets, advises Novartis Crop Protection application specialist Tom Robinson.

That is because droplets at the fine end of the medium spectrum are better retained by upright growing blackgrass and difficult-to-wet wild oats. Trials have sometimes show that the finer spray quality achieved with 100 litres/ha (9 gal/acre) applications using 110-02 tips have given the best results. "This may be partly due to the increased adjuvant concentration," he adds.

Control may be poor if air induction nozzles or water volumes of over 200 litres/ha (27 gal/acre) are used in growing crops. Using 110-04 nozzles at 200 litres/ha (18 gal/acre). Extra recommended oil adjuvant may help, he says.

Travelling speed and boom height also have significant effects. Improved boom suspension on todays sprayers means some operators work at up to 9.3mph. But Mr Robinson recommends a maximum of 5mph in crops where the cereals are masking blackgrass or wild oats.

Keep boom height at the optimum height for crop penetration of 40cm (15.5in) above the crop. In more open crops the speed can be increased, but beware of raising boom height too, he says.

"Combining these important application factors into your spraying operation will give you the best shot in tricky grass weed conditions," concludes Mr Robinson. &#42

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