RESULTS from five years work with reduced crop inputs at TEAGASC suggest that most growers in Ireland could boost margins by cutting application rates of fertiliser and sprays.
But both growers and advisors are reluctant to adopt findings, says project leader, Michael Conry.
"Financially the returns from the reduced input system are better. But growers are not taking up this message. They want an insurance policy and like to see perfect crops," he comments.
A claim culture amongst farmers, where agronomists and chemical suppliers are blamed for any poor performance with a crop, means most advisors are locked into recommending a full-rate regime, he continues.
"The advisory service dont want to take risks. They dont want to risk having to explain why a crop looks bad."
Yields of the reduced input crops, which had 20% less nitrogen, no phosphate, and a managed fungicide programme using half-rates or less, are lower than the "conventional" crops. (see table).
But when all the financial inputs and returns are measured, the gross margins are higher for all but spring barley.
Despite that, County Kildare-based Jim McCarthy, who grows 1000ha (2500 acres) of crops on 23 different farms up to 50 miles apart, dismisses the idea of cutting his fungicide regime out of hand.
"Ill not have a notion of it. These guys are obsessed with variable costs. If I cut rates by 40% I might save £16/acre. That is not an expensive insurance to pay to get the yield considering Ive invested nearly £400 in growing these crops including rent."
Dr Conry acknowledges that for large scale operations applying reduced inputs could be more difficult.
"I do emphasise that with the reduced inputs system timing of applications is critical. This is only for the skilled grower and does present possible problems for the big growers."
Equally, those in high disease pressure areas such as Cork could not simply reduce rates across the board, he adds. But with cereals trading at world price levels and environmental pressures growing, a move away from routine full-rates is needed.
"Growers or advisors need to be able to establish the level of disease pressure on the crop and match rates to that accordingly," he concludes. *
TEAGASC reduced rate trials
Crop Conventional Reduced inputs
Yield Margin Yield Margin
W.Wheat 10.62 578 10.12 669
W.Barley 9.12 528 8.00 553
W.Oats 8.69 477 7.94 531
S.Barley 6.95 576 6.08 565
Average of monoculture, rotation, and break-crop results, 96-99.
Spring 2000 regimes compared
Date Conventional Reduced
28/4 1 litre/ha Allegro
8/5 0.5 litre/ha Allegro
19/5 0.7 litres/ha Amistar + 0.3 litres/ha Opus
22/5 0.5 litres/ha Allegro
13/6 0.8 litres/ha Amistar 0.5 litres/ha Amistar
Cost £149/ha £88/ha
(Allegro = kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole. Amistar = azoxystrobin. Opus = epoxiconazole)
REDUCED RATE TIPS
• More margin possible.
• Match rate to disease.
• Avoid routine high rates.
• Timing critical.
Above: Half the fungicide, 20% less nitrogen, and 16% more margin from wheat. Good reason for growers to start reducing inputs, says Teagascs Michael Conry. Right: Plots in the reduced input trials are a tramline width-wide to match farm practice. All inputs and outputs, including straw, are measured financially.