How will the ‘agronomist of the future’ help Norfolk farms?

A Norfolk wheat crop. Picture : ANTONY KELLY

A Norfolk wheat crop. Picture : ANTONY KELLY - Credit: copyright ARCHANT 2017

Tighter environmental regulations, weather extremes and evolving disease threats are among the arable challenges which will demand a new approach to crop agronomy in East Anglia.

That was one of the key messages to farmers attending a technical meeting organised by the new Farmacy Norfolk Agronomy team at the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

With many pesticides and weedkillers under threat of bans, the meeting highlighted the importance of cultural, non-chemical approaches to crop protection alongside established agronomy principles.

'We are still looking at a future of new active ingredients, although the pipeline will slow down due to increasing regulatory and environmental pressures,' said meeting chairman John Purslow, who leads the Farmacy Norfolk team.

'Alternative crop production solutions' are taking an increasingly important role in meeting the technical and commercial challenges of profitable crop management, he said.

'This covers a multitude of different areas, from bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants to soil health, crop nutrition and the use of crop genetics to tackle new and existing threats.

'Increasing resistance in pests, weeds and diseases and the need for an integrated approach to managing these for the long term is becoming crucial to the sustainability of our combinable cropping rotations.'

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To illustrate what 'integrated solutions' looked like in practice on farms, NIAB TAG's head of farming systems, Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, explained how soil health could be improved through measures including cover cropping.

Mr Purslow said the increasing complexity of agronomic decision-making made it vital for agronomists to have access to a wide range of technical expertise.

But the meeting also heard how the successful 'agronomist of the future' had to be capable of utilising and analysing the wealth of field and crop data being collected on farms, to deliver fully integrated advice.

Knowing what to do with the sheer volume of data available across a wide variety of systems – from machinery telematics to soil sampling – can seem daunting, farmers were told, but the right system can bring this data together to increase the precision and efficiency of decision-making.

All agronomists stressed that regular field walking and appropriate recommendations remained core to the everyday role.