SOME of arable farming's main threat and opportunities produced some food for thought and some important take home message for those attending the recent Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) Conference, near Towcester.

Managing for pesticide resistance, a future without neonicotinoids, a possible pregnancy style test for black-grass, predictions of aphid numbers and yellow rust levels for 2017, were amongst the topics.

On disease resistance to crop chemicals, UK and European scientists shared a unique debate, with all agreeing that managing for resistance was vitally important and the responsibility of the whole arable community.

Black-grass resistance is a crisis and we must avoid reaching those levels of resistance in other sectors, or with other vitally important actives such as glyphosate, said Dr Paul Neve, of Rothamsted Research.

He said that whilst we currently don’t have any resistance in black-grass to field rate doses of glyphosate, there have been indications that reduced dose rates caused a shift in sensitivity.

He outlined alternative work being carried out to support black-grass control and resistance management, such as faster detection of resistance in the form of an in-field 'pregnancy-style' test. Developed with researchers at the University of Newcastle, and commercial partners Mologic, this works by detecting certain proteins within plants as resistance builds up.

Prof Lin Field, of Rothamsted, who has been involved in the ongoing debate on the moratorium on neonicotinoids, voiced concerns that neonicotinoids could be gone for good. The EU has delayed its review of the moratorium and she feared that Brussels will extend the ban for longer than the initial two years. It could also extend it to include other crops and other pesticide groups.

Talking about fungicide resistance to septoria tritici, Dr Rosie Bryson, of BASF, pointed out that there was extensive monitoring work across the industry. “We don’t need to panic, but we do need to take action and reduce the risk of full scale resistance occurring," she said.

“To date, we know that SDHI mutations are at low levels in the intensive cereal production areas of the UK and Ireland, however, we have to use SDHIs wisely by making sure that they are used with a robust resistance management partner.

"Despite a shift in sensitivity of the azoles both epoxiconazole and prothioconazole are still effective against septoria at practical dose rates, so make sure that they are part of your fungicide programme."

She added that SDHIs needed to be protected to maintain effective disease control, particularly when the pipeline of new actives is so much slower now due to the new regulations.

But, there were reassuring notes from Andreas Mehl, of Bayer, who pointed out that SDHIs had been in the market place for more than 10 years since the launch of boscalid back in 2003, and resistance was not yet at worrying levels.

“Recent work by Bayer in the UK and France has shown a recovering sensitivity in septoria to prothioconazole. Ireland is still at higher risk, but levels have not changed in the last three years – so this means that the practices that we are adopting are certainly helping to manage the situation,” he argued.

Yellow rust raised its ugly head in 2016 affecting many varieties, and this was due to the aggressive nature and rapid changes in the rust races, said Paul Fenwick, a pathologist with Limagrain.

He believed that the Warrior 3, or Invicta race was more widespread in 2016 and hit some varieties hard. He indicated that there was no reason that this season would be any different, and we may start to see an effect from the Kranich race which has now arrived in the UK.

This underlined the importance of adopting an integrated approach by choosing varieties with robust resistances and a carefully considered fungicide programme, he said.


Academy shows AICC growth

THE attendance of 312 industry representatives and agronomists at the recent conference reflected increasing interest in and demand for independent advice, said the AICC.

Its bespoke training academy, which it introduced two years ago to assist members in growing their business and to future-proof the continued growth of independent agronomy, has been a great success story, it said.

“The aim of AICCA is to enhance the level of expertise of these new entrants post BASIS to provide them with a sound technical platform in preparation for a career in independent agronomy,” explained AICC's Sarah Cowlrick. “More than 30 trainees have since joined the programme – way above the initial eight or nine originally expected.

“These trainees are all now at various stages of their training, working alongside established AICC members. They are required to complete 12 modules during this time over a range of topics such as nutrition, black-grass management through to business management opportunities."

This is funded by the AICC, with industry support for training days playing a key part of the programme. “We need to be clear that these are not agronomy apprentices," pointed out Mrs Cowlrick.

"They are agronomists working in their own right and the intention is that they are in place to support AICC members who are looking to retire or cut down on their acres, retaining that business within the independent sector and further increasing the AICC market share.”