Thursday, 5 December 2013

FAR - A Long Long Way to Roam

Yet again I find myself lost with the right words to describe the day at Arable Research in Action, organised by FAR, (Foundation For Arable Research).  The annual event is held near Chertsey in the Ashburton District on the Canterbury Plain's and provides levy paying farmers with a fantastic opportunity to look at the research currenty being undertaken by FAR.  The weather was fantastic, not an annual occurrence and the turnout was in excess of 300 farmers.  The event was organised very well with a total of 12 different half hour slots with growers able to choose 8, 4 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon.
Not all were relevant to my Nuffield topic but never the less very interesting for an insight into where research is going.  I started off looking at Nutrient budgets.  Interestingly there is a program called 'Overseer' which calculated estimated Nitrogen leaching per hectare over the rotation of the farm.  Different rotations varied, leaching between 4 and 46Kg/N/Ha/year, calculated over 22 farms in the Ashburton district. N leaching increased dramatically where cows are involved, especially in their urine patches!  The next session was on Glyphosate resistance when spraying field boundaries.  Resistance is starting to become a problem in rye grasses on the field boundaries and there is concern about them spreading into the main paddock.
At 12.00 I listened to Lise Nistrup Jørgensen from the Aarthus University, Denmark, talking about managing disease resistant to fungicides.  A problem we are facing in the UK to a certain degree, especially with Septoria.  Part of the resistance strategy should be to mix up different active ingredients but legislation in the UK is limiting our choices so the chance of building resistance in increasing thanks to European Legislation.  How's that for forward thinking when we have more people to feed in the world and we're trying to do it with one hand potentially behind our backs.  The next slot was really interesting looking at early sowing to achieve the right populations to achieve higher yields.  Populations and cultivars (varieties) are the key to this, as is the type of wheat grown.  Feed wheat due to its unusually slower growth habit has a better chance of not being too forward and disease susceptible, so a higher chance of the right spring population.
After lunch there was a very interesting talk on stubble burning and the case was being made that New Zealand farmers are a special case!  I have a few doubt about this argument coming from a climate where we can grow as much, if not more, wetter straw and still manage to establish crops in that residue.  There are arguments about weed seed control, like blackgrass and the ever present slugs, but the value to the soil is greater as humus than ash.  Where the situation varies is when trying to plant clover seeds under minimal cultivation.  However cultivation or match dropping, is only done in this situation because the current drills will not cope with the crop residue.  There is a cure for this developed in the North Island.
The next two sessions were on disease control in barley and then the use of low rate fungicides which were very useful.  I talked afterwards to a few farmers about growth regulation in spring barley and a lot of modus and terpal is used to keep the plants standing and to reduce brackling.  Something we might need to look at back at home, where this year there were too many ears on or near the ground that the combine missed them.  I was also interested to hear more about a trial being conducted here in New Zealand at at home in the UK with NIABTAG.  They are looking at high yielding wheat crops with identical treatments in both countries to see how the crops respond and yield to the same treatments in different climates.  The results of that would be fascinating.

During the event I had a good look at some establishment trials in wheat.  There was about 6 different methods of establishment d=form two direct drilling options, to a couple of topdown and drill options and finally a plough based system.  It would be really interested in seeing the final yield results of this trial as there was very little ego choose between all of the systems.  But it doesn't just come down to yield it should be margin of all inputs and establishment costs.  That is the key to profitability.  If you happen to be passing the trial site next year then I can highly recommend dropping in for a look around and introducing yourself to the very friendly team.

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