By Dr Keith Dawson

IT NEVER ceases to amaze me how crops respond so rapidly to some sun and rain. 

Where I am in Ukraine we have had the coldest and latest spring in our time here, with some late frosts kinking flowering oilseed rape on the farms closest to the Carpathians. 

The cooler drier spring weather has kept disease and pests in check until the warmth and heavy rain of the last fortnight. 

The winter crops have come through well and there is some outstanding winter barley in west Ukraine. But, emerging sugar beet seedlings have been hit hard by the sheer energy of the rain in places, with soil erosion on some slopes from 30mm hard rain in a few hours in mid-May. 

Whilst wheats went in late and in difficult conditions – making most farms were well below target plantings – wheat has now tillered a lot better that expected, but not as good as the earlier planted barley. 

There is little sign of the bad stem weevil damage we have seen in the last two seasons, partly due to the colder winter down to minus 20°C and partly due to increased targeted early insecticide use. 

This cool spring has been indicative of the sharp drop in global temperatures following the end of El Nino and back to the plateau of the last three decades. 

At least the ‘activist scientists’ have now acknowledge this plateau, which they previously ‘denied,’ as they scramble for funds to explain why their models were and are plain wrong. 

Interesting that the SNP Government is mandating emissions be cut by 80% on the basis of such uncertain science and with it the risk of crippling Scottish agriculture and the economy as a whole.

The drive for wind to achieve this 80% continues apace, but let us pause to ask a question. How much to the nearest whole number does wind power contribute to global energy needs?

Well a much trumpeted 54gW was added globally last year – so is it 20, 15, 10 or 5% perhaps? As Matt Ridley has shown clearly, to the nearest whole number, it is actually zero! 

Even in total, solar photo voltaic and wind supply only 1% of global energy needs. The answer is wind only supplies a pitiful 0.45% from figures from the latest report from the Global Wind Energy Council. 

Its contribution is trivial, its cost to consumers isn’t! Are our politicians going in the right direction, or just kicking an expensive can further down the road? 

Let us not forget it was a flawed and corrupt renewable energy policy which has brought down the government and threatened the peace in Northern Ireland!

The trilemma of affordability, security and emissions reduction cannot be met by renewables. 

With the insect and weed pressure we have, there is no sign of neonicotinoids or glyphosate being banned in Ukraine, which helps with resistance management.

It is a crazy situation that the neonicotinoids are being banned as a seed dressing, forcing growers to use less targeted means to control damaging pests. 

Banning glyphosate on unscientific political grounds will only increase CO2 emissions via extra cultivations. Rarely do activists look at the full picture, as this spoils their, often inaccurate, soundbite.

We have a significant worry about SDHI resistance in Ukraine in septoria, net blotch and now ramularia, with no chlorothalonil to help. 

We had hoped to have chlorothalonil in a generic mix but approval has been delayed, forcing us to use the poorer folpet as a mix at flag leaf. 

Rather irresponsibly, BASF are selling SDHI as a seed dressing in Ukraine and it is working well. But this is likely to accelerate resistance to all SDHI molecules. 

In Ukraine, we are co-operating in a major EU project on mycotoxins in wheat, which shows clearly the effect of previous cropping of maize before wheat in escalating this problem.

In Cuba, after five years of hard patient work – despite the hidden hand of US sanctions – we are proud to have finally closed on the deal and started construction of Cuba’s first utility scale biomass energy plant. 

This 60mW plant will be the first of five in this first phase, requiring an investment not far short of $1bn. This Scottish-Cuban-Chinese venture, was headed by the chairman of Havana Energy, Brian Wilson and CEO, Andrew MacDonald, and is the largest foreign investment in Cuba for more than 50 years.  

This will help diversify the electricity supply from total reliance on Venezualan crude, imports of which have been slashed. 

Since last July, energy has been rationed in Cuba bringing back fears of a return to the ‘Special Period’ after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 

Certainly, the Trump administration has put the brakes on any relaxing of sanctions that the Obama administration was promoting. These US sanctions have made it almost impossible, until recently, to attract investment and we have had several ‘brides’ leave us at the altar, or earlier due to outside pressure from the hidden hand.  

Despite adversity and much political difficulty, we have persevered, as many Scots have before us. This has given the large Chinese private company, Shanghai Electric, an opportunity to invest in Havana Energy and the Cuban jv Biopower. 

Hopefully, our patient pioneering efforts will show others it can be done and attract further inward investment to this sleeping agricultural giant and their delightful people.  

It may, in a way, help the lifting of the crazy outdated policy of US sanctions, as they see their policy is just replacing Soviet influence for Chinese inward investment. 

The Chinese have been tremendous partners, showing a really professional approach and abundant patience at the many roadblocks in the journey over the last two years. 

The feedstock is the sugar cane waste, bagasse and the harvesting of the noxious invading weed, marabu, thus releasing former cane land back into a more diverse cropping pattern. 

The special equipment pioneered by Havana Energy will harvest the thorny biomass (100t/ha) and return the land to plantable condition within 24 hours allowing maize and soya to be double cropped within 12 months. 

This will help reduce the imports of 60% of national food supplies, a truly tragic situation when the natural resources of water, sun and soil are so bountiful in  Cuba.  

It was a delight to hear the always excellent Guy Smith, deputy president of the English NFU, at the Scottish Society of Crop Research agm, more than return enough for the meagre £15 annual membership. 

His subject was Brexit and none more important for farming, food safety and the environment at the moment, with support payments and food safety standards only guaranteed until 2019. 

It is a real ‘Dog’s Brexit’ as we move from CAP to DAP, Domestic Agricultural Policy (not di-ammonium phosphate fertiliser). 

Though, when the organic fertiliser enters the ventilation system, there are going to be many ‘Leave’ farmers who will rue the placement of their cross as they have another tougher one to bear!

As Guy memorably said: “The reason only a two-year period of withdrawal was written into the Treaty of Rome was that so no one would then be stupid enough to try it!”