Forget the use of multi-site fungicides and pesticides, arable farmers will have to learn to become more technically minded if they are to make the most of an era with fewer agrochemicals on the market.

That was the message from Professor Fiona Burnett, who was speaking at a successful inaugural Arable Scotland event, when she told producers they would need to adjust to the loss of the chemical chlorothalonil which is widely used to protect both wheat and barley crops, next year.

Speaking at what will become an annual event, staged at James Hutton Institute’s Institute’s Balruddery farm just outside Dundee, Professor Burnett said: “The loss of chemicals widely used in fungicides and pesticides is not a passing trend, or a fad. This is reality and growers need to adjust and seek out opportunities or replacements because you are losing more tools compared to the number of new ones available. Don’t spend the next five years defending chemicals we know are going to go, instead of changing now.

“Multi-site chemicals are not the future. Arable producers need to learn how to reduce their fungicide and pesticide usage and their reliance on chemicals by looking more at Integrated Pest Management (IPM), such as longer rotations, more resistant varieties and lower doses of chemicals.”

The best arable growers are already reaping the benefits of reduced pesticides and lower input costs by increased surveillance and anticipating the risks of particular crop varieties in specific situations.

“The worst thing you can do is continue to increase chemical inputs. Fungicides and pesticides work 95% of the time on 95% of the problems but there is no guarantee the increased costs incurred from will be covered by a higher end price. The more technically minded are already using resistant varieties, using fewer chemicals and more illicitors and biological methods to control pests and diseases for a win:win situation.”

Dr Pete Iannetta, an agroecologist with the Institute’s Ecological Sciences, pointed to the merits of planting increased legumes or inter-cropping, which at present stands at just 1% of all arable crops and should be nearer 15%, to reduce the UK’s reliance on imported legumes.

This would help to reduce greenhouse gases by reducing dependence on fertilisers, it would also help to boost biodiversity, food security and open up new markets for local food and drinks businesses.

Soya beans had also been trialled in Scotland and last year produced yields of 1.5 tonnes per ha, which, coupled with further trial work on lupins, lentils and common beans, could become more feasible.

“In pea-barley crops, despite sowing the inter-cropped barley and peas each at a 50% rate and using no artificial nitrogen, yield has exceeded that of barley grown alone,” said Dr Iannetta.

“Nitrogen is essential for good crop yields and cereals are usually grown with added man-made nitrogen at around 110kg N per ha. Artificial nitrogen comes from fossil fuels so has a high carbon footprint,” he said.

There was good news from Dr Bill Thomas, a barley geneticist within the Institute’s Cell and Moelecular Sciences, who told producers concerns of a lack of malt for an expanding whisky market had been addressed, with the development of new higher quality winter malting barley varieties to future proof Scotland’s malting industry.

The £2m Impromalt project, which was based on plant breeders identifying the extra yield potential of winter malting varieties and the quality of spring barley malting varieties, has seen two-row and six-row varieties crossed back and forth to produce a superior high quality, high yielding variety which will require another year of crossing before it will hit the recommended lists.

“Whilst plant breeders have previously tried to add spring barley attributes into winter barley, they have relied on chance events to assemble the right genes, which is like searching for a needle in a haystack when the crops differ at thousands of genetic loci,” said Dr Thomas.

“We now have the knowledge and tools to introduce key spring malting quality attributes into winter barley in a highly targeted manner and improve winter malting quality. Impromalt lines have been tested in micro malting by MAGB member companies and the results show significant malting quality improvement,” added Dr Thomas, who pointed out that the project has the potential to be the single best achievement in winter malting barley genetics since the breeding of the Maris Otter variety in the 1960s.