Overcoming the big arable challenges

17.10.13 Overcoming the big arable challenges discussion archive

This discussion raised awareness of the new Crop Tech show on 30-31st October. Issues pertinent to the show, and in the wider arable sectors, that were discussed included blackgrass, CAP reform, weed control, unpredictable weather, water and soil erosion. Digital media was heralded as a good conduit of knowledge transfer, with technology through new apps and data being crucial to record keeping. Soil nutrients and new crop varieties were also discussed. Effective communication messages and events such as Open Farm Sunday were highlighted as important for demonstrating environmental and crop protection technologies to the public.

The discussion held on Thursday 17th October 2013 was a discussion about the big arable challenges and how to overcome them. It generated a total of 579 tweets on the topic from 87 participants. These included farmers, agri-food businesses, rural advisors, land agents, lawyers, journalists, academics and NFU officeholders, as well as members of the general public.

So what’s happening @CropTecShow on 30-31st October? What’s it all about, who is exhibiting & will YOU be going?

  • Lots! Seminars, exhibition, demos. Focus on tech in crop protection, nutrition, plant breeding
  • Will be there both days, discussing seed issues from farmer perspective
  • For me it’ll be a chance to discuss how research can be used and what is needed
  • Chance to discuss seed standards, meeting farmer needs
  • Aimed at growers & agronomists & plugging a tech gap. 60+ exhibits

Farmers & Agronomists – What is the No. 1 challenge you face in you or your clients arable operation(s) right now?

  • At the moment, the blackgrass issue is massive – this will only get worse in the next few years with nothing new en route.
  • Frustrating that the answers are recycled older products like flupyrsulfuron – surely our saviours won’t be IPU & Prebane?
  • Could widen that concern to many other weeds and diseases but for me current no1 challenge is CAP reform
  • The answers will not be chemical for black-grass. Spring cropping is vital component.
  • Rotation, ploughing, fallows all far more likely to be answer than expensive recycled actives
  • Have heard of wheat being ploughed up/sprayed off already this autumn because black-grass so bad
  • Is brome grass a big problem in Cumbria?
  • Hard to choose, declining soil organic matter, problem grass weeds, extreme seasons, volatility!
  • I have serious concerns for weed control in general if we continue to lose actives at the current rate
  • Unpredictable weather. Last June saw 250% of norm rain, this June less than 60.
  • Glyphosate is the best solution – but there is a (small) risk of resistance development
  • What about implications of having three arable crops on any farms over 100ac of arable land

What measures are you taking to overcome your No. 1 arable challenge & if none then any what are the barriers?

  • Carrying out DEFRA funded research on dormancy in black-grass to try and improve pre-crop control
  • Potential for supression of blackgrass with allelopathic companion plants early in season but need project to further develop
  • Stale seedbeds, good diverse rotation, and rotation of new and old chemistry
  • Blackgrass threatens cereal production in Eastern England unless we deal with it NOW. Ploughing, seed rates etc
  • Chemicals are the last resort NOT the silver bullet. Timing of said chemicals is FAR more important than quantity

How long until we see this tech transition from the lab to the field & are there barriers to overcome first?

  • Big potential of digital media for knowledge transfer but need way to filter out relevant info
  • The robotic spot sprayer/fertiliser cannot be too far off. Understanding crop physiology, comp prog and mechanics will be key
  • Not digital but still innovation– pheromone traps to monitor OWBM pest & avoid unnecessary sprays
  • New apps and data sharing between farmers, agronomists, contractors, etc, timings are crucial as is record keeping
  • Technology cannot replace the input from an experienced eye though
  • If all agronomists worked to thresholds & not to targets, insecticide use for one would plummet
  • Delivered through combination : industry, levy bodies and similar, education institutes, contractors – team!
  • Regulations even stifling non-toxic crop protection innovations like semiochemicals and biocontrol agents

There’s either not enough or too much of the stuff so how do you currently manage water on your farm? Drainage & storage

  • Climate change means more unpredictable & extreme weather
  • Big changes to water by the end of the decade #watertrading #waterstorage incentives from Govt planned
  • Soil management to improve drainage is vital – too little water might reduce yield, too much will kill crop
  • Cover crops can conserve soil moisture
  • It would help if the Environment Agency would do something about all the silt & trash in the rivers, water can’t get away.
  • You can’t grow crops on wet fields.Spending money on drainage will always pay, what ever the commodity price

What options are out there to help arable farmers better manage water and insure against extremes of flood and drought?

  • Incentives to store and share would help. Henry Leveson-Gower speaking at Inst Ag Man Conf 28 Nov about Defra plans
  • Would be nice if we were free to abstract in times of flood to save for times of drought & get grants for reservoirs
  • More organic matter, less cultivation for drought resilience. Farm half way up a hill for flood
  • We’ve been selecting drought tolerant crops for Africa. May need stress tolerance traits here

What options do farmers have to improve or restore their soil structure and prevent soil erosion?

  • Ca is vital to restore structure, its in superphosphate fertilisers which reduce stickiness & improve friability
  • Superphosphates must only be applied in amounts needed to meet the crop’s P requirement – excessive P can leach
  • Gypsum is underused – high in S, excellent for neutralising pH & for repairing slumped soils that 2012 caused.
  • Know what you’re applying though, some waste/red gypsums contain heavy metals like lead, titanium, cadmium etc
  • Reducing tillage, cover crops
  • I do wonder if drive towards low or no till has increased poor drainage
  • Controlled traffic, good organic matter, and natural soil structure have to be the way forward
  • Beetle Bank across the slope of a field is good way of reducing soil erosion & +ve for insects
  • Good soil structure I.e. Min till and return to recs for plough for blackgrass control don’t square.
  • Too much straw is baled at giveaway prices without a thought of nutrient replacement value.
  • Key is understanding the soil and making right call on cultivations in given situation
  • I still can’t find a plough that does a good job on heavy soils, answers on a postcard please

How important are micronutrients to the plant and what is the consensus on their application?

  • As with macro nutrients, they are vital, but unnecessary over application can lead to severe toxicity issues
  • Routinely applying random trace elements where no deficiency exists can lead to toxicity – MUCH harder to treat
  • Know your soils. High Ca inhibits Bo, Fe & Mg ; high K locks up Mg (& vice versa); High N locks up Cu; high Cu locks up Fe.
  • Trace deficiencies will inhibit the development of hormones, enzymes, chlorophyll & even the absorption of macro elements
  • Trace elements Fe, Zn, Bo, Mn, Mo, Cu & Cl are just as important for the healthy growth of the plant as N, P & K.

How important are soil bacteria in plant health and what restorative steps are available?

  • Vital – Azotobacter, Beijerinckia, Klebsiella, Cyanobacteria, Nitrosomonas, Nitrobacter all vital in the nitrogen cycle
  • I think we forget soil bacteria at our peril along with OM
  • In a single gram of soil, there can be billions of bacteria – some promote plant growth or suppressing pests & diseases
  • In 1g of soil there are >40,000 SPECIES of bacteria, each as different as an apple and a fish – old fashioned “muck” best.
  • It may well be the way forward as P&K stocks run out, that we rely upon bacterial agents that release existing soil reserves

What are the most promising new crop varieties coming out now? What traits do they show and how can they reduce inputs?

  • Resistance in blackgrass & aphids is well documented, but we also have issues with wild oats, mayweed, groundsel, ryegrass
  • OWBM– pest resistance bred into many wheat varieties now incl higher quality
  • The use of Deter on WW seed is most definitely reducing the impact of Pyrethroid resistance amongst aphid populations
  • Skyfall bread maker candidate OWBM Pch1 resistance and 102.9 yield plus good all round disease
  • The high yielding group 1 with good disease resistance is a year or 3 away. Still a year or 3 away.
  • Pest resistance will become more of a problem. Bio tech answer but needs using with caution, ask the yanks.

How much are EU regs stifling innovation in plant breeding? Do we risk losing out in the UK and what has needs to happen?

  • We’ve already lost out because of shortsighted policy on biotech
  • Losing out on opportunities from GM seed. Decisions are made against for political rather than scientific reasons
  • Reducing options for farmers is not good for sustainability
  • Not just UK farmers losing out, EU as whole missing out we are getting left behind many other countries
  • GM is vital. It’s crass arrogance to deny drought resistance technology, nitrogen fixing in cereals etc to developing nations
  • We need for EFSA to assess GM crop proposals, and then have individual member states decide on adoption, as for pharmaceuticals

How do we move forward and communicate effectively to the consumer on their food safety & environmental concerns?

  • Open farm Sunday is a good opportunity to show the public what really happens on farms
  • Open farms, education inc. farming in National Curriculum, reforming link of food consumer with food producer
  • If you’ve eaten reasonably priced food today remember to thank the farmer
  • Being on twitter is a start! ag info needs to come straight from those in industry to the public, no media spin!
  • Communicate message that more efficient farming reduces environmental impact – land & water sparing
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