Norfolk farmers urged to assess the financial gamble of high-chemical 'dirty' wheat crops
PUBLISHED: 06:38 22 June 2018 | UPDATED: 06:51 22 June 2018
Archant Norfolk 2018
Wheat growers should balance the risks of using high-yielding "dirty" crops and consider planting cleaner new varieties with less dependence on chemical fungicides, a leading researcher told Norfolk farmers.
The Morley Innovation Day at Morley Farms near Wymondham, showcased the latest arable advice from scientists and agri-business organisations at the forefront of agricultural research and development.
Visiting farmers and agronomists were shown trial plots of 42 varieties of wheat, and discussed the latest thinking on soil management, crop protection, and precision farming strategies.
Bill Clark, technical director at NIAB (National Institute of Agricultural Botany) led a tour of trials aiming to show how different wheat varieties were responding to fungicides aiming to control infections such as septoria.
With newer varieties being bred with greater natural resistance to such diseases, he said the highest yield might not necessarily mean the best margin – and there could be a financial gamble in growing the highest-yielding crops which were most responsive to chemical fungicides.
“These high-yielding, high-input varieties are very profitable if you get it right,” he said. “We can do this in trials because we can time everything perfectly, but on a farm scale you won’t always be able to do that.
“In those years when you get it wrong you could lose 2t/ha (tonnes per hectare) – and wheat is £150 per tonne so that’s £300 per hectare gone, just for getting your fungicide programme wrong. Even if you only mess it up one year in five, in that year you could lose tens of thousands of pounds on the farm.
“With a more resistant variety you might only be putting at risk 0.75t/ha, so if you mess it up you lose £70-£80/ha.
“The simple message is that the new varieties we have got are high yielding and they have got good disease resistance. That combination means you need fewer fungicides, so you can save money up-front on your inputs and they are inherently less risky because they are not going to crash if you get them wrong.
“From the moment you choose a high-yielding dirty variety, your risk has gone up. But when you choose a high-yielding low-input variety your risk goes down, and then you go into all the unknowns of the season and the weather – but you can manage the risk of that by choosing the right variety.”
Clare Leaman, cereal variety specialist at NIAB, added: “There is a definite shift, in that people are beginning to realise they need to use every tool in the box to overcome all sorts of problems. You cannot just rely on chemistry. They need to use varietal resistance and rely on good farming practice, not just what is in the bottle.”