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Black-grass weeds and crop disease top the agenda at Anglia Farmers seminar

PUBLISHED: 16:13 21 December 2017 | UPDATED: 16:13 21 December 2017

The AF crop protection seminar at Barnham Broom Hotel. Pictured is Bob Fitzgerald from Bayer Crop Science. Picture: Chris Hill.

The AF crop protection seminar at Barnham Broom Hotel. Pictured is Bob Fitzgerald from Bayer Crop Science. Picture: Chris Hill.

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The constant and evolving battle to protect East Anglia’s arable crops from pests, weeds and diseases was outlined at a farming seminar near Norwich.

The AF crop protection seminar at Barnham Broom Hotel. Pictured is Bob Fitzgerald from Bayer Crop Science. Picture: Chris Hill. The AF crop protection seminar at Barnham Broom Hotel. Pictured is Bob Fitzgerald from Bayer Crop Science. Picture: Chris Hill.

The winter crop protection seminar hosted by Norfolk-based buying group AF (Anglia Farmers), brought about 80 farmers and agronomists to Barnham Broom hotel to hear from industry analysts and agro-chemical companies on their latest trials and product developments.

Managing black-grass – an arable weed which can have a “catastrophic” effect on cereal yields if left unchecked – was the key topic for Bob Fitzgerald, farm business manager at Bayer Crop Science.

He compared the performance of various herbicides, but said effective cultural control – using non-chemical methods such as cultivations, delayed drilling and higher seed rates – is also crucial in reducing weed populations.

Mr Fitzgerald also introduced the “AF 5x5” project, which is monitoring five different black-grass fields at five AF members’ farms, over a five-year period of differing rotations and farming approaches. They include Collin Green Farm in Lyng, near Lenwade.

The scheme involves a post-winter black-grass plant count and a June head count for each of 30 GPS-located data points.

He said there were three key messages so far. “Firstly, the goal should be to minimise seed return to the soil throughout the rotation,” he said.

“Secondly, spring cropping is very important – critical actually – but that alone won’t solve a black-grass problem.

“But the thing that really stood out was that there are fields where black-grass is catastrophically bad, and fields which are clear – but in between there are lots of patches that survive the herbicides, and maybe we ought to be thinking about those resistant patches in more detail.”

Jack Hill, Bayer’s commercial technical manager for Norfolk, said the company is working on a new nematicide to protect potatoes and carrots, and a new herbicide-tolerant sugar beet variety – although these are still years away from being fully licenced and commercially available.

He said for every £10 spent on Bayer chemicals the company reinvests £1 in research and development, seed trait innovations, re-licensing, and enabling new technologies – and it costs £250m to bring a new active substance to the market.

Also speaking was Dr Jonathan Blake, senior research scientist from environmental consultancy ADAS, who outlined the results from independent studies comparing the performance of commercial fungicides, and how the timing and quantity of the application affected disease levels and yields in wheat crops.

The 2017 trial sites included one in Terrington in west Norfolk, focusing on yellow rust. He said even though this was a low-pressure year for yellow rust, the trials showed up to 50% of disease levels in untreated crops – but most treatments did a “pretty good job” of controlling this.

In his summary, Dr Blake said SDHI fungicides are highly active in protecting wheat from disease, but there is some evidence of decline in their efficacy so they should be used in tandem with azole fungicides to slow the development of resistance.

The final speaker was Dick Neale of crop production specialists Hutchinsons, based at Wisbech, who spoke about soil health and boosting the productivity of the land.

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