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“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”

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– Agronomist&Arable Farmer: Comment

The new and varied ways of collecting data add up to an exciting time for agronomists, says Farmacy’s Charles Wright

Charles Wright

With winter meetings, conferences and seminars drawing to close, my overriding feeling is that of excitement towards the potential future opportunities that await UK agriculture.

There is going to be a change, challenges and short-term problems but we should embrace these and do what we do best as an industry and innovate to get over these hurdles.

Winter wheat, barley and beans establishment on the whole look good and future crop prices are reasonably firm.

CSFB Cabbage Stem Flea Beetle OSR Oilseed Rape Helix Article Image AAF imag

OSR is very variable, primarily due to the dry soil conditions at planting and then a very dry September - I would estimate 20% of my planted OSR area is now in or going in with an alternative crop. With long-term black-grass control in mind, I still fear I have OSR crops that are going to cause black-grass issues in next year's potential wheat crop. So, cropping plans have already started with spring barley crops earmarked for problem fields. Cabbage stem flea beetle larvae is variable, ranging from very high numbers to almost non-existent with, from my experience, no parallels to autumn levels at all.

I won't be recommending anybody to treat for larvae as I can't see it working and I worry it will do more harm than good to beneficial organisms.Surely there must be something more we can learn about what this pest in terms of how it identifies crops in relation to sight and smell?

Where the right crop was put in the correct field, with the appropriate cultural controls - such as cultivation strategy and later drilling – black-grass control in winter cereals looks promising. This relates to my earlier comment about making a plan for black-grass, which needs a complete ICM approach for any hope of success.

I have enjoyed the challenge and learnings coming out of the Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) and I would urge anybody who isn't engaging with it to do so. It has been great to get nitrogen on early this year to help with tiller production but, more importantly, hopefully increase root mass. Now that a large percentage of my wheat is drilled in late October, we are losing out on a lot of autumn growth both above and below ground, therefore we must try and do all that we can as agronomists and growers to get these crops away quicker in the autumn and in the spring.

With the lack of winter rainfall so far, I hope this is not ‘75 going into '76 as I keep being told by my more experienced clients.

Off the back of YEN I, along with colleagues, are doing more plant establishment counts in both winter and spring cereals which we will follow through to see how this effects tiller numbers, tiller survival, ears/m2 at harvest and, ultimately, yield.

I like the statement 'if you can't measure it you can't manage it' and looking at the future of technologies coming into agriculture, we will have more accurate and efficient ways of collecting and implementing precise data – therefore the time is now to start learning more about how our fields and fields within fields are performing and why! The Helix project is something I am excited about and something I can only see benefiting my clients and UK farmers.

It is important to remember that just because we can doesn't mean we should so the project will be a great testing ground to see if a range of new technologies can potentially increase productivity and profitability as well as efficiency for UK growers.