Friday, 22 June 2012

Jealotts Hill Visit

I had a really great day at Syngenta 's research centre yesterday at Jealotts Hill.  The farm is a LEAF Demonstration Farm as well so we had a lot in common.  It was the science though that I found really interesting and the years of testing and assessing all of the products that come to market, from herbicides to fungicides.  In fact it can take about 10 years for an active ingredient to be found, tested, made into product, assess, registered, marketed and then finally used in a sprayer.  The process starts in the the picture above after between 700-1000 compounds are tested every week and the results are completely unknown.  If they show some control of sensitive weeds in this case then they will be put into a herbicide program to see if they can be developed.  Obviously the current issue for UK farmers is the control of difficult or resistant blackgrass to which there is no magic bullet waiting round the corner I'm afraid.  Onwards with the rotational and cultural control for the time being!
The next area of testing and development is biokinetics where the team discover what happens after the product has attached itself to the leaf.  Things like how it redistributes itself, how much sticks on, is it water soluble, how persistent is it, what's its photostability (how stable is it in sunlight) and so on, As products are identified and formulated they are tested in this great rain tower, where between 10mm and 40mm of rain/hr can be applied to see how the product and active ingredient remain on the plant.  Here, for demonstration purposes, there was soya, turf, wheat, banana's, and cucumber, all with different leaf characteristics, which all interacted with the active ingredients depending on the size, shape and angle.
We also had a look at the actual application testing methods.  How does it behave in a sprayer? Does it stick to the sides, sink to the bottom, will it come out of the nozzle?  Here the water is being sprayed through a Defy nozzle (left) and a low drift nozzle (right) to demonstrate the process and the droplets are very different in size and characteristics, with a much coarser droplet from the low drift nozzle.
It really was a great opportunity to see the development and effort that goes into our agricultural pesticides and also good to know how rigorous the testing is before the products are even sent to be registered.  As a user of many different products its good to know the level of dedication and science behind the products.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Open Farm Sunday (Part 1)

Our Open farm Sunday event was held on the 17th June this year and we welcomed over 160 people.  Everybody met up next to the combine and grain trailer ready to be loaded onto our tractors and trailers to begin their 1.5 hour trip to discover where their food comes from.  The first stop, (not food related) was with Simon Sweeting at Overbury Stallions.
Simon gave us all a quick over view of the stud business and how it integrates with  the farm and the estate.  Simon talked about the 5 stallions here at the stud, how the seasons work and also how the sheep help to manage the grassland through the winter time.
Next was my turn to talk about the crops that we grow on the farm.  I had some examples of wheat, barley, beans, oilseed rape and potatoes growing in the background.  We talked about rotations and why it is necessary to grow different crops in the fields rather than one crop year after year.  We also talked about irrigation and how we measure and use water on the crop.

Open Farm Sunday (Part 2)

Here's Mary Poppins (AKA William Fox) from Frontier Agriculture standing out in the rain talking about what happens to our crops after they leave the farm.  He spoke about the wheat going off to be milled and turned into flour for biscuits or bread, we talked about the oilseed rape being ground up and pressed to extract the oil to be used in bio diesel or to provide vegetable oils.  Most of all we enjoyed talking about the malting barley that we sell, as part of the Molson Coors Growers Group, that gets malted and brewed into Carling beer.
Next up was Dominic Swainson from Agrii who introduced our 36m Bateman sprayer and discussed how we apply chemicals to the fields, from the surveying (crop walking) and trapping that we do, to writing the prescription and getting the chemicals or fertiliser applied.  We talked about the GPS variable rate application of fertiliser and steps we take to reduce the impact of the chemicals on the environment.  Things like nozzle selection, sprayer testing and operator Continual Personal Development.
Finally the groups were given the opportunity to meet up with Stuart Veall (syngenta) and Jodey and Jo from the  Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who were taking part in the national pollinator survey.  The groups had 5 minutes to survey the crop and a stewardship pollen and nectar margin to see what flies, beetles, butterflies and bumble bees we could find.  Considering the weather, heavy showers on and off all day, we found some really great pollinators including about 5 species of bumble bees!

I really would like to take this opportunity to thank every one who helped out for this years Open Farm Sunday.  Our speakers for their time and energy, the farm staff for setting out the machinery and driving the tractors and the office team, headed up by Howard, for sorting all of the promotional material, signs and e-mails.  Thanks also to the local press and radio for helping with the publicity making this years event one of the best yet.  I guess it wouldn't have happened with out the visitors actually making the effort to come out and hear what we all had to say so a big thanks to you too.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Wychall School Trial Operation Pollinator

We had a great day today entertaining year 4 children from Wychall Primary School from Birmingham.  We started the day, after a loo stop, with a session up on the hill trying to spot pollinators.  The weather, I'll be honest has not been great over the past few weeks, so my expectations were low but we were very pleasantly surprised!  We split the group of 36 into 6 group and we surveyed 3 different habitats.  There was a permanent grass field, a pollen and nectar mix (with bird food) and a crop of Oilseed rape.  My thoughts were to see which pollinators we actually had on the farm having never really stopped and looked at them before.  On Sunday we are taking part in LEAF's Open Farm Sunday event and after the farm tour people are being offered the chance to go and do a pollinator survey in some stewardship mixes, crops and orchards to see what we can find in the great British farmland.
Considering the weather was cold and wet we found lots and lots of grasshoppers (far too many to count), we found soldier beetles and ladybirds in their dozens and also lots of bumblebees.  Surprisingly we found the largest population of bumble bees in the crop of oilseed where there had been some winter pigeon predation and the crop was still flowering.  There were soldier beetles everywhere and lots of moths and hundreds of flies emerging from the grassland so we counted them as well!  If you want to take part in our pollinator survey we still have room on he 10.30, 12.00 and 14.00 tractor rides, (survey after the ride for 30 mins or so) or have a look on the Open Farm Sunday website for a location nearer to you that is taking part.