Six teams from universities and colleges from across the country have been presented with this year’s Cereals Challenge – which is to grow a virtual crop of winter wheat in a testing set of circumstances.

Launched in Solihull earlier this month, teams from Nottingham University, Newcastle University, Harper Adams University, Writtle University College, Hartpury College and the Royal Agricultural University were presented with this year’s challenge – which is to grow the best plot of winter wheat on land that has a resistant black-grass challenge and is following a crop of oilseed rape leaving Clearfield volunteers to manage.

Now in its ninth year, this contest aims to encourage a new generation of agronomists and farmers into the industry by offering them a ‘crop’ to manage and is organised by crop production specialists, Hutchinsons and farm business management company, Velcourt.

Paul Hobson of Hutchinsons explained why this year it was a 'virtual' approach: “Previously, teams have been given a real plot to manage at the Cereals event site, however with such a geographical spread of teams this disadvantaged those further away who were not able to visit the site. By creating virtual plots, this makes it simpler and fairer for all.

“A new twist for this year is that we set up the challenge using videos where Keith Norman, of Velcourt and Dick Neale, of Hutchinsons, describe the scope of each challenge. These were from the field where the crop is being grown and it’s possible to see and get a feel for the soil structure and early weed populations.”

As the spring unfolds, the next three steps of the challenge will be conveyed via the Hutchinsons Facebook page – each video blog will highlight what’s happening in the crop and technical experts Dick and Keith will describe the task for the teams to solve.

The wheat plots will still need to be grown and managed as if it were a ‘real’ crop and each team will still have complete responsibility for their crop – from choosing which variety to grow and cultivation and drilling details through to making the real-time agronomy decisions on inputs, added Mr Hobson.