Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Agrii Agronomy Day

On the 1st May I had a really interesting agronomy meeting (day) with Agrii down near Marlborough.  It consisted of a morning session in a rather chilly grainstore and an afternoon session outside in the first bit of sunshine I had seen for nearly a month!.  I met up and had a good conversation with Stuart Alexander from Soilquest (part of Agrii ) all about using precision farming techniques to really target nutrient application.  The Soilquest system works in a slightly different way to that of SOYL who's technology we have been using since 2006 but ultimately using expensive nutrients targeted in the correct areas of the field has to worth while both from a financial and environmental aspect.
Stuart had some really great pictures demonstrating how soil changes with a field.  As farmers we have been joining fields together to get more efficiencies, to use bigger and bigger machinery.  Many of the old field divisions, such as hedges or walls, were put in place where different soil types naturally occurred and those different fields needed different applications and handling and here we are putting them all back into one area.  Now we can try and manage those smaller parcels of soil differently within the same field, which can only lead to better yields with targeted management.  However, and this is where precision farming can be a loose arrangement; if we have a fertiliser spreader or a sprayer at 24, 36 or even over 40m wide then that is currently as precise on these inputs as we can get.  When using narrower seed drills (ours is 6m) that I feel is the way to start the process off by trying to create a more even establishment of plants at the start of the year.
In addition to the Soilquest team Dr Peter Gladders was there talking about disease levels in this years Oilseed Rape crops, especially sclerotinia, which at the time were not very threatening, (cooler night-time temperatures stopping the sporilation). He also spoke about the long flowering period that we may have with  these lower temperatures that could expose the crop to risk for a longer period of time, if the weather warms up.  Therefore timings of fungicide are crucial this year as there is no 'kickback' control on sclerotinia.  Verticillium wilt was also mentioned where there is potential to build up the fungi in the soil, with close rotations of rape and certain varieties, (such as Excalibur) increasing it's occurrence from 6% of the UK's arable fields. I will be out spotting the disease later in the year, usually about symptoms start appearing as the crop is getting ready for dessication.
Finally I found listening to Phillip Marr very interesting, he spoke about the flowers being formed in the plant in mid winter (say dec on a conventionally timed crop).  at this point the crop turns from being vegetative to being reproductive and new main root development stops.  All that happens through the spring and summer is the root cells increase in size giving an appearance of growth, so root development shouldn't be hindered in the autumn with poor cultivations or poor fertility, everything is linked together and can therefore only be managed with Integrated Farm Management it's where autumn metconazole has a great role to play.

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