Scottish Agronomy growers dominated the spring barley category in the 2020 Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) awards this week.

Fife grower Dave Bell took Gold for best spring barley yield 11.3t/ha, while Peter Chapman, of Aberdeenshire, also struck Gold, with Duncan Wilson, from Glamis, getting a Bronze award for best potential yield for spring barley.

Peter Chapman, South Redbog, near Strichen, in Aberdeenshire, won Gold for achieving a yield 9.7 tonnes/ha of spring barley which was 87% of its maximum potential yield of 11.1t/ha yield. He also won a bronze for outright yield of 9.7t/ha of spring barley and a bronze for outright wheat yield of 14.8t/ha.

The Scottish Farmer: Peter Chapman has been delighted with his success in the YEN awardsPeter Chapman has been delighted with his success in the YEN awards

He said the growing conditions this year were ideal for his farm. He also put his success down to resilient soils in drought conditions, having applied organic manure to his arable ground for the last 30 years. The only change he made was to increase nitrogen to his YEN crops by approximately 10%, compared to his standard farm practice.

“It’s been a six-year battle to win an award, but this was the year for it! The growing conditions were advantageous and the dry weather suited our sandy clay loam soils. There were a lot of high yields on farms in Aberdeenshire, and with the low rainfall there was not the same disease pressure.

“We haven’t cracked the job. The weather has a lot to do with it, but we are using all the information and tools we have available to do the best job we can. Tissue and grain analysis last year showed the growing crops were low in copper and potash.

“We applied significantly more copper this year which has helped, and next year, we’ll be adding a liquid NKS fertiliser to address that requirement at peak growth.”

Peter said he valued advice from his agronomist, Iain Learmonth, of Gardiner ICM – also an Aberdeenshire farmer 2020 YEN award winner for best percentage of potential yield (102% of 13.9 tonnes/ha) – and Scottish Agronomy’s Knowledge Hub, which shared information from the co-operative’s 20,000 trial plots. “I find the trials information very valuable – it’s a mine of information there that can be used to maximise potential output.”

Peter’s entries were sponsored by Limagrain/Nickerson and Hutchinsons.

Duncan Wilson, farm manager of Strathmore Farming Company, at Glamis, who was sponsored by AHDB, achieved bronze in the best percentage of yield for spring barley with 74% of 10.4t/ha. He said: “It’s all about learning what improves yield. Going forward, I’ll be looking at crop nutrition with a closer eye and the micro elements that make the difference.”

Eric Anderson, the senior agronomist at Scottish Agronomy, commented: “The Yield Enhancement Network, as an open competition platform, connects agricultural organisations and farmers striving to improve crop yields. It is about farmers, agronomists, suppliers and scientists all working together with a common goal.

“These awards are testament to the hard work and attention to detail of our members, who are outward looking, prepared to try new methods and are ambitious to get the best they can from the crops. It’s encouraging to see soil and IPM play such a part in the success of these yields.

"Ultimately high yields and appropriate inputs boost profitability. It is a mindset about the learn, the taking part and selfless sharing of information amongst peers. We should celebrate the success achieved by all in the face of an extremely challenging season for so many reasons.”


Minimising yield loss and the benefits of YEN

Eric Anderson explained the benefits of YEN: “We are looking to understand how to minimise yield potential losses. Farming in essence is just loss management you start at 100% and you minimise your losses.

"Before wheat seeds leave the bag there is the potential to produce 18-20 t/ha of grain in Scotland, yet we are regularly failing to realise even 60% of this. We need to understand the reasons why and target how we can address the challenges.

“ADAS has analysed all the YEN data and one of the consistent findings is that crops with high ear numbers are positively associated with yield. Each participant receives more than 60 explanatory metrics which builds their own vital personal database.

“Tissue analysis during key periods in the growing season gives insight into the crop’s health and frequency of possible nutrient deficiencies. This allows growers to take actions in season on nutrient deficiencies with foliar applications in conjunction with the key fungicide timings.

"Samples of the crops are also taken at harvest, and that has shown us that crops with a high biomass are positively associated with yield. So really, we should be managing the crop with those targets in mind.

“Through the YEN camaraderie and the desire to develop the confidence to do better than 'best practice', awards aside, everyone is a winner through the ability to benchmark their performance with components of yield analysis combined with tissue and grain analysis. With dedication and enthusiasm, it provides the opportunity to share and understand ideas and build upon incremental gains."

Within the YEN data set – which he admitted is skewed – there is still a lot of variation. Most modern varieties produce high yields but growing is an art and there are millions of permutations of the decisions taken to grow a crop. Each correct decision results in a small improvement of spatial and temporal yield within a field. Attention to detail and soil management are key to higher yields, which are often more consistent where animal manure is applied within the rotation.

“Looking ahead, with ecosystem services becoming an aspect of conditionality that many will need to need to embrace, carbon foot printing and Net Zero is the next challenge. This will be driven by nutrient use efficiency and yield," he added.