By Dr Keith Dawson

HARVEST has begun in earnest in Ukraine, with winter barley coming in at reasonable yield and quality in the early harvested crops.

While these early fields are never the best on any farm, yields have been steadily increasing to above 7t/ha with some good crops off the heavier land.

Like many parts of Central and Eastern Europe, oilseed rape is ripening a little unevenly. On a road trip through Germany and the Czech Republic recently, I was struck by the dryness of soils and premature ripening in lighter patches but since then there have been thunderstorms and even severe hailstorms.

Lower Austria had its most severe hailstorm for 50 years in early July, with hailstones the size of marrowfat peas causing widespread damage along with high volumes of high energy rainfall on ripening crops.

The huge risk at this time of year in Ukraine is fusarium in the ear, causing mycotoxin levels to render the grain not only unsuitable for breadmaking, but for sale altogether!

Our main weapons in this fight are varietal resistance, a sound crop rotation and, finally, resorting to good fungicides. None of these are guaranteed to avoid the problem but together they form a classic case study of integrated crop protection.

The best fungicides for us are a mixture of prothioconazole and tebuconazole, but these are in no means totally effective and we find the right adjuvant spreads the fungicide into difficult to target parts of the ear, thus improving control.

Wheats after maize have much higher levels and there is a wide range of varietal resistance. So, we are now part of an EU research consortium trying to find better ways to predict and target the problem.

Our warm and moist harvest climate, with rain from the Carpathians, is an ideal breeding ground for ear diseases.

This means that whilst the flag leaf fungicide, like Scotland, is the most important for protecting yield, the ear spray has an even higher priority in terms of preserving quality and eventual profit, as badly affected grain is worthless in Ukraine.

The moist warm weather also increases the risk of potato blight for us, particularly when our processing customers desire a susceptible variety like Lady Claire.

Potatoes are a profitable crop in Ukraine, despite more than 80% of production concentrated in the hands of smallholders.

It is critical to keep ahead of the game in terms of new technology and variety developments (there is nowhere better to do this than the UK’s largest field-based demonstration, Potatoes in Practice, at Dundee, on August 10).

With the Scottish Government having a stated aim to increase restrictions on farming in regard to greenhouse gas emissions, it was interesting to see new German research showing organic farming’s carbon footprint to be at least as high as those of conventional farming.

It showed that the average organic diet will use 40% more land than the average conventional diet. This is likely to be an underestimate, as most organic farms are still benefitting from historical inorganic applications of P and K and will need more unproductive fertility building hectares in the future.

There is always the organic conundrum of needing more vital organic manures, but organic consumers eat much less meat than the average person, thus leading to lower livestock numbers to provide the FYM. That’s a seemingly unsolvable puzzle for widespread organic production.

Brexit will mean a totally

different landscape

A depressing side effect of Brexit axing farm support would be the reduction of sheep numbers and sheep farmers on the hills, which will change our landscape significantly in an unintended ‘re-wilding’.

Areas of outstanding natural beauty, like the Lake District and the Borders, will be changed beyond recognition due to the changes in land use within a decade post-Brexit. How many ‘Leave’ voters even considered such an effect, not only on food production and landscape but tourist revenue as well?

It is pertinent to note Donald Tusk’s persuasive if obvious comments about Boris Johnson’s ‘cake and eat it’ scenario. What he needs to understand is that first you have a cake, then you eat it and then there is no more cake! This applies to landscape and tourism too.

Interesting to note that birth registrations of the name Donald have fallen off a cliff in Scotland, but perhaps not as a result of the eloquent Mr Tusk!

A further change in land use from food was heralded some years ago, with large swathes of the country to be planted with subsidised coppice woodland at the expense of food crops, this like many renewable strategies ‘sadly’ failed. Latest figures from the Independent International Energy Authority (IEA is the OECD of energy) are illuminating in this regard. Currently, wind and solar make up only 0.6% of global energy demands.

Renewable zealots often deliberately attempt to confuse the public by misrepresenting electricity demand as energy demand, thus inflating their vested interests contribution. We need much more than just electricity to power our modern world. Even if everyone, including Trump’s US, meet their Paris Agreement targets over the next 25 years, solar and wind will still only provide 3% of global energy needs by 2040, according to IEA projections.

That’s a different scenario to that predicted by those with vested interests. It is estimated that just to meet our growth – not including existing needs – in global energy up to 2060 would require a wind farm the size of Russia.

Every year, a wind farm greater than the size of the British Isles and Ireland would need to be constructed just to meet new demands not existing demands.

But, with the drop in government support, few new wind farm plans are in the pipeline. This means the greatest threat to our landscape, rural community and tourism is more likely to be Brexit than subsidised ‘bird killers’.