1 September 2000


Valuable savings, yield

lifts, better grain quality

and the reassuring sense

of being more in control

of husbandry await wheat

growers under the Sector

Challenge project.

Andrew Blake reports

TURNING research findings into practical, easily digestible and useful messages has rarely been easy. But a new £472,000 project funded by the DTI, HGCA and ADAS intends to change that for wheat.

The idea is to first train individual farmers in the canopy management method of production, says ADAS consultant Jon Bellamy. Each then grows a field according to those principles, with ADAS support, and leads a group of 15 growers so they too become familiar with the technique and pass it on to others.

"At the end of the three-year project in December 2001, 35 farmers will have been intensively trained and a further 500 will have enough information to allow them to operate the new management principles."

One of the pilot farmers, Andrew Pitts of Grange Farm, Mears Ashby, Northants, who grew Rialto under Mr Bellamys direction in 1998/99, is convinced of the value of the exercise. This season all the wheat on his 530ha (1300 acres) of arable was produced through canopy management adjusted to suit his own particular soils and conditions.

Masses of research has been undertaken with HGCA levy payers cash, he says. "But it is of little use if the results simply end up as reports. This is a new initiative to put research reports into practice and make sure they dont just gather dust on the shelf."

For wheat the HGCA tried to bring all the relevant information together in the 1997 Wheat Growth Guide. "It was a good start but not enough for the professional farmer. It didnt tell you how to get the best out of the crop."

Now the first 18 growers and their consultants in the project have a document that is a new practical training aid. Eventually it should be available as a guide to all wheat growers, says Mr Bellamy.

Mention canopy management and most growers think nitrogen, he acknowledges. "But there is far more to it than that. It involves several key areas – variety choice, site selection, sowing date, plant populations and seed rates, lodging and disease control as well as nitrogen management.

"They all interact, but nobody has managed to bring them all together before now. No-one has been able to say: If you are sowing this variety on this soil type on that date and that rate, and you are using so much nitrogen, then you will need this disease control and pgr programme."

The new guide should help growers make such decisions more logically and easily, he believes. But field demonstrations will also be an essential part of the education process.


SAVINGS of over £33/ha (£13/acre) in growing costs, a 2.5% yield boost, and a range of other benefits were readily scooped through applying canopy management to a crop of Rialto harvested in 1999 on chalky boulder clay at Grange Farm.

"Ever since we bought a combine with a yield monitor five years ago, we have been able to prove that very thick stands yield no more than some thinner ones," says Mr Pitts. "It was something we had always suspected, and we had gradually been cutting back on seed rates."

But it was not until Mr Bellamy persuaded him to trim part of the Sept 23-drilled Rialto to as low as 150 seeds/sq m and use canopy management throughout the season that the full potential became apparent.

Compared with an area sown at his more usual 370 seeds/sq m and managed conventionally, it yielded 0.3t/ha (2.4cwt/acre) more and cost £33.41/ha (£13.52/acre) less to grow.

The main reasons were the saving in home-saved seed, down to 86kg/ha (0.7cwt/acre), and the removal of the need for a late Terpal (ethephon) growth regulator treatment. "We also used about 40kg/ha less nitrogen," says Mr Pitts.

Despite that and the fact that the crop was cut after a prolonged wet spell, the canopy managed area delivered a better grain sample. "The specific weight was a point higher at 75.1kg/hl and the Hagberg was 114 compared with 88 under our normal management. It may not seem much but it was worth £3/t."

The thinner crop had other advantages. It came off slightly drier, and because there was less straw the Lexion 460 25ft cut combine could work 0.2ha/hr (0.5 acres/hr) faster. There were also work-rate benefits elsewhere in the season. "We only had to fill the drill half as often, and not having to use Terpal meant one less sprayer pass."

However switching management systems demands care and attention, warns Mr Bellamy.

"Tinkering about with only 80-100 seeds/sq m in Oct could bring big problems.

"Weeds, slugs and even rabbits can pose more of a threat if too low a seed rate is used. A higher seed rate in these situations could be compensated for by adjusting nitrogen, pgr and fungicide use." &#42

The new Sector Challenge is all about making sure valuable research messages get taken up by as many wheat growers as possible, say Jon Bellamy (left) and Andrew Pitts.

The new training guide (left) with canopy example pictures builds on the HGCAs wheat growth guide.

The new training guide (left) with canopy example pictures builds on the HGCAs wheat growth guide.

Technology transfer

The project aims to: "Improve the competitiveness of UK wheat production, that is to reduce the cost of producing a tonne of grain, through developing the capacity of producers to match management to crop growth, based on findings of MAFF and levy-funded research."

Rialto comparison 1999

harvest (drilled Sept 23)

Conventional Canopy managed

Seed rate (kg/ha) 185 86

Density (seeds/sq m) 370 150

Spring counts:

Plants/sq m 360 140

Tillers/plant 3.3 7.7

Total growing cost (£/ha) 222 188

Yield 100% 102.5%

farmers weekly intends to follow and relay the canopy management system in detail throughout the 2000/2001 season on one of the farms involved in the project.

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