Innovations in product developments and technology, plus access to extensive technical trials, are the keystones to providing independent crop consultants with more opportunity than they have ever had.

That was the clear message to come out of the recent Association of Independent Crop Consultants (AICC) Conference, at Whittlebury Hall, in Towcester.

“Despite challenges facing the UK arable industry over the next decade, there is no doubt that these are exciting times for the independent agronomy sector whose market share is increasing. This was reflected in the largest ever attendance at the annual AICC conference from both members and the wider industry,” said Sarah Cowlrick, CEO and manager of the conference.

“As well as being the largest gathering of independent crop consultants and the wider industry, providing unique technical information, it also gives members an opportunity to interact and the 42 AICC Academy members the chance to learn from their peers."

Its chairman, Sean Sparling, said: “As independent crop consultants, we have an ever-changing tool box to work from with some exciting new crop protection products coming to the market in the next five years, as well as innovative crop management tools.

“Balanced with this, we must also look after what we already have and take seriously the issues of resistance and continue to act responsibly in our recommendations to manage for this – all of which we can do with ease as there is no commercial pressure to use particular products.”

He argued that through its extensive network of nationwide in-house trials, members of the AICC were in a privileged position of being able to understand first-hand how new products work and how they can be best used for profitable crop production.

Cereal diseases

and new solutions

At the conference, Jonathan Blake, of ADAS, warned that whilst SDHI fungicides were still active against septoria, there is some evidence of efficacy decline with quarter and half-dose applications dropping in the last five years from 90% to 45-60%.

He said that to slow down any further drop in efficacy, SDHIs should only be used where absolutely necessary only using azoles and multi-sites at T1 and T2 where possible, and that there may be scope to refine multi-site use. He said that trials of mancozeb and chlorothalonil used in combination, had shown a synergy that could boost disease control and yield in some cases providing 0.3t/ha more than when either multi-site was used in isolation.

He pointed out that growing more resistant varieties, such as Crusoe, showed no significant yield benefit with fungicide programmes incorporating two SDHIs, compared with one.

Neil Paveley, crop protection director at ADAS, emphasised the importance of incorporating resistance management into fungicide programmes. “It is important to make challenging decisions, asking if an SDHI is needed at T1, is an azole needed at T3 and consider the addition of a multi-site at T2 and T3? Remember, more treatments this year mean more difficult control next year.”

Dr Paul Gosling, of AHDB, raised concerns about developing resistance in barley, in line with increasing applications of fungicides. He reminded delegates to use alternative chemistry ie cyprodinil and resistant varieties where possible.

Coping with

pest resistance

Resistance was also evident in pest control, pointed out Sacha White, of ADAS, and Alan Dewar, of Dewar Crop Protection – they raised concern about available options for effective aphid control due to loss of efficacy of chemistry due to resistance, loss of actives through regulation and the high cost of alternatives.

Ms White urged growers to use good insecticide resistance management approaches, such as using products at their full rate; alternating modes of action; and minimising use through adherence to thresholds and employing alternative control methods such as varietal resistance, companion cropping and conservation biocontrol.

Mr Dewar voiced concerns about a total ban on neonicotinoids, particularly in controlling virus yellows in sugar beet. “Without neonicotinoids, sugar beet growers are fully exposed to full aphid and virus pressure. Virus yellows are a real threat to the profitability of sugar beet.

"New insecticides are urgently needed and we should also re-introduce the virus yellows warning scheme to guide their usage,” he argued.

Soils health

Better understanding of soil health and biology will in turn lead to best farm practice and improved crop production, according to Dr Elizabeth Stockdale, of NIAB TAG, and Professor Richard Pywell, of the Centre for Hydrology and Ecology.

Dr Stockdale urged agronomists and growers to look at how changing management systems, such as min or no-till, could impact different areas relating to soil and plant health, and raised the question of how we should be sampling soils in conservation agricultural systems, pointing out that the current approach is based on traditional conservation cultivation practices.

Professor Pywell focussed on biodiversity as a support for 'more resilient' farming in the future. “Focusing on the challenges around improving soil health, we have worked with the RSPB and found that compost addition appeared to be a more effective means of increasing soil organic matter and available phosphorous in the short term – over three years – compared with cover cropping.

"However, we found that when applied over a longer period of 10 years, then cover cropping increased organic matter content and associated diversity of soil fungi.

“Ultimately, growers need to know if creating the right habitats will have a financial benefit to their farm business and this is a question that we asked in a six-year project on a 1000 ha commercial farm. Some of the poorer land was taken out of production and used to create habitats for beneficial species. The results were encouraging, with reported yields of some crops up by as much as 35%.”

Herbicide resistance

– the bigger picture

Reporting on ryegrass resistance to glyphosate in Australia, Dr Paul Neve, of Rothamsted Research, pointed out that there are no known reasons why black-grass in the UK would not follow the same path.

“There is some evidence that some populations of black-grass are evolving reduced sensitivity to glyphosate and this is down to several factors. Glyphosate use has consistently risen on UK farms, whilst at the same time widespread resistance to post-emergence herbicides is putting pressure on glyphosate as rare glyphosate survivors are not controlled by post-ems.

“Reductions in tillage also increase the probability that rare survivors will persist, whilst later and multiple applications of glyphosate increase the proportion of the population that is exposed to glyphosate,” he said.

Dr Laura Davies of ADAS, urged growers to act responsibly to minimise the risk of glyphosate resistance, particularly in black-grass, ryegrass, and bromes, referring them to the 2015 AHDB guidelines – “There are no reported cases of glyphosate resistance in the UK, but to maintain this it is crucial that as an industry we act responsibly,” she said.

Establishing OSR

for best yields

With current trends towards higher seed rates and either early or late drilling to combat pest and disease pressure in OSR crops, Dr Pete Berry presented data re-enforcing the message that the optimum seed rate for hybrids and conventional varieties is 25-40 plants/m2 – with some seasonal influence.

“In order to maximise the crop's potential to photosynthesise through flowering, when seeds are set, the canopy needs to be relatively open at flowering," he pointed out, adding that the effect of sowing date on yield were not well documented.

Dr Berry encouraged delegates to look at the Oilseeds YEN project for the valuable learnings about characteristics and management of high yielding OSR crops.