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Cereals 2017: Writtle University team wins virtual cropping challenge


A team from Writtle University College in Essex has won this year’s Cereals Challenge agronomy competition, having grown the best virtual crop of spring barley.

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Henry Hawkins and George Padfield collect their award from Keith Norman (L) and Dick Neale (R)
Henry Hawkins and George Padfield collect their award from Keith Norman (L) and Dick Neale (R)
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Writtle win virtual cropping challenge #Cereals2017

The team comprising Henry Hawkins, George Padfield, Oliver Martin and Harry Coppin saw off competition from seven other university and college teams from across the country, with Harper Adams University taking second place, and Royal Agricultural University third.


For the first time in the competition’s eight-year history, teams were asked to grow a ‘virtual’ crop of barley. They were offered the choice of growing one of two virtual crops; a high yielding feed crop of barley on a heavy soil in a black-grass situation, or a moderate yielding malting crop on a sandy soil with moisture limitations.

What is the Cereals Challenge?

The Cereals Challenge is organised by crop production specialists Hutchinsons and farm business management company Velcourt, and aims to encourage a new generation of agronomists and farmers into the industry by offering them a real-time crop to manage.

The team from Writtle opted to grow malting barley, after sugar beet, on the Suffolk Brecks due to its proximity to maltsters.


Writtle team captain, Oliver Martin said: "We felt that it was worth aiming for the premium, so opted to grow Octavia as it has a robust disease profile, is approved for brewing and distilling, with low grain N, and we were confident that we could manage weed control fairly easily in this situation, as we did not have to contend with black-grass.”


See also: How £20 could improve your arable business


Judged by Keith Norman, technical director at Velcourt, and Dick Neale, technical manager for Hutchinsons, the final results were based on each team’s agronomic recommendations and input cost management.


Dick Neale said the Writtle team provided the most accurate and justified recommendations. “Ultimately this was the crop that would have been the most profitable of any if it were really being grown,” he said.

Harper Adams team win writing competition

Harper Adams team win writing competition

Left to Right: Catherine Linch (Pinstone Communications), Joe Bagshaw, Helen Brown, Becca Creasey, and James Whatty from Harper Adams University


The Harper Adams team also collected a prize from the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists for writing the best report on their decision making, by setting out how and why they had changed their fertiliser applications through the season.

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