Innovation day shares East Anglia's wealth of farm science knowledge
PUBLISHED: 10:05 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:44 21 June 2019
A Norfolk farm's "innovation day" showcased the latest research helping food growers tackle the challenges of a volatile climate, changing market demands and the influence of policy decisions on the environment.
More than 200 farmers attended the event at Morley Farms near Wymondham, which included advice and displays from agronomists, scientists and agri-businesses, offering insights aimed at improving arable performance.
The event, in partnership with The Morley Agricultural Foundation, also included field tours and discussions on cereal disease, grassweed control and soil management.
Experts from NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) guided growers through trials of almost 40 wheat varieties to show how each has fared under this season's conditions on a typical mid Norfolk farm, with or without fungicides.
Also among the exhibitors was the Norwich-based British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO). In a landmark year for Norfolk's staple sugar beet crop in the absence of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides, BBRO has been developing an integrated approach to pest management including extensive aphid trapping and mapping, the latest diagnostic testing for virus-carrying aphids, and a novel trial approach to identify resistant beet varieties.
And plant scientists from Norwich's John Innes Centre explained how they are using a captive breeding population of cabbage stem flea beetles to research this major pest of oilseed rape, and investigating how to harness natural soil bacteria to combat economically-important plant diseases such as potato scab.
Morley Farms manager David Jones said: "What we are trying to do is showcase some of the research projects that go on here, to talk about good practice rather than selling products and services. We have tried to bring together as diverse a range of people as we can.
"People who come here are not just talking to the stallholders, they are talking to each other, so it is a focused social event. It is about sharing knowledge and, even though some of the organisations here are commercial, they are sharing ideas among themselves too."
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In the field trial plots Bill Clark, technical director at NIAB, said while the recent rains had been welcomed by farmers it has increased the risk of fungal cereal diseases like yellow rust - underlining the need for continued research into resistant varieties amid the global drive to reduce chemical usage.
"Yellow rust has surprised a lot of people in the East," he said. "I think all this rain we have had over the last month has changed the story and it has become a high disease year.
"The breeders have done a fantastic job producing these varieties that are high yielding and don't need as much input. There is all this pressure from the EU or globally to reduce pesticide use, and that is exactly what these new varieties are doing - some of these newer varieties are using half the fungicide input that the older varieties need.
"Historically if you got a variety like that which was very resistant it was usually much lower-yielding, but in fact now these very resistant varieties are only a couple of percent off the highest yielding varieties, so there is not reason not to grow them.
"They are low risk varieties. Your timing is not critical, and your fungicide choice is not critical, or even the dose. So you can grow these varieties with relatively little risk. At least some of the farm should be down to this sort of variety."