Spring is just around the corner and it’s very noticeable that winter cereals and grass are greening up, but that’s not surprising when we look at how warm the soil temperatures are for the time of the year.
Certainly, in the garden we’re seeing daffodils and snowdrops coming through and the odd battle between cock pheasants show us that they’ve got their mind on spring activities too.
I’ve just been over to the International Institute of Sugar Beet Research Biennial Congress in Brussels, thanks to a kind invite from Pam Chambers of UPL.
It was two days of the world leading authorities in sugar beet research presenting their latest findings on how we can continue to grow and profit from sugar beet in the coming few years.
The presenters had travelled from all over the world and I always admire how scientists from such a huge range of different countries can deliver their sometimes very technical messages in English.
Luckily, they speak French, German, Dutch and English in the bars so there was always someone able to order a beer.
The thrust of the conference certainly from the European presenters was how we can continue to grow profitable sugar beet with less chemical intervention due the political pressures being placed upon member countries to reduce their reliance on pesticides. But also, with the long-term effects of climate change and increasingly unpredictable weather.
The presenters from the US were also having problems with pesticides, but not so much from a legislation point of view, but from lack of efficacy due to resistance to many actives especially with cercospora beticola in the Red River Valley where they are having to spray four-five times – and still sometimes losing the battle.
There was also lots of discussion and presentations based on Integrated Crop Management (ICM). The European Parliament has put this forward as part of the Green Deal and member states will be obliged to demonstrate how they are implementing their ICM strategies.
ICM and IPM (Integrated Pest Management) has been around and I believe been practiced by farmers and agronomist for many years but being able to, and having to, demonstrate how these practices are being implemented is bringing another aspect to something that should be Good Agricultural Practice.
There was talk of computer-based prediction models and thresholds to more accurately target pesticides. More trait-based sugar beet breeding to again reduce the amount of pesticides being used.
The scientists from the US were able to discuss CRISPR-Cas 9 to look at the genes on the resistant strains of cercospora beticola whilst the European based breeders were obliged to use more conventional breeding strategies. But all have their place and some excellent varieties more tolerant of cercospora will be available soon where they are needed.
What they were all stressing though was the need for ICM. We require chemistry to protect and work with genetics, neither should be regarded as the sole answer because as we know nature has a way of breaking things down and over time becoming resistant where over reliance on one strategy is practiced.
Next week is back to the day job, inspecting potato seed and checking what we need to treat or not and going through the plans once again to ensure we’ve got the correct PCN resistant varieties in the correct fields.
This is a huge part for potato growing in the UK and the managing of varieties around the farm to counter the effect of globodera rostochiensis and globodera pallida is one of the great ICM strategies that is becoming much more common on UK potato farms.