Virtual agronomist battles septoria

NEW INDUSTRY-FUNDED disease management software is proving its worth in a high septoria year, according to experts.

Arable DS, a decision tool funded by the Home-Grown Cereals Authority and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has now completed its first commercial year with 150 farmers and advisors.

Users found the software, which uses fungicide research work and weather data to make dose and timing recommendations for cereal spray applications, advised fairly robust rates.

“With hindsight it looks like it was making some very good decisions,” said ADAS senior plant pathologist Bill Clark.

“It‘s been a severe test – this is the worst septoria year I‘ve seen – and it‘s been recommending some very robust rates of epoxiconazole.

“The only situations where it hasn‘t worked well is where growers haven‘t managed to get their T1 sprays on at the advised timing, which has proved crucial this year.”

In 2003, pilot users managed to cut fungicide use by 30%, compared to standard industry practice, and improved gross margin by £17/ha.

Arable DS is the Wheat Disease Manager module of the LINK-funded DESSAC program.

It uses the latest HGCA appropriate dose rate research and weather data from 160 meteorological stations across the UK to highlight when crops are at risk from the main disease threats.

By changing proposed fungicide programmes and timings, growers can use the software to perform what-if scenarios.

This will produce an approximate gross margin range a grower can expect from each scenario.

Senior research staff from ADAS, Central Science Laboratories and HGCA, who have developed the software, were keen to promote it as a decision support tool at Cereals 2004.

“It‘s not a replacement to crop-walking, but users have found it a useful way to support any fungicide application decisions they are making,” said CSL‘s Paul Meakin.

Extra DEFRA funding has helped fund its first semi-commercial year, which cost users £50, including a training workshop.

But updating, maintaining and supporting the software and its user base will cost around £100,000/year and the aim is to make it self-sustaining.

“We‘re hoping for around 500 users – there‘s no reason why we shouldn‘t achieve that,” said Mr Meakin.

Cost of the software, which will be in the region of £50-200/year will be announced in the autumn.

Grainplan, the HGCA‘s new grain management software, will be incorporated into Arable DS by harvest 2005, added Mr Meakin.

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