With this season’s trial and demonstration visits on hold because of coronavirus, arable companies and organisations have been looking at ways of getting results and technical information to growers through virtual means. Marianne Curtis and Alice Dyer report.
RAGT usually welcomes many visitors to trials at its demonstration site at Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, to look at cereals from its own portfolio as well as all the leading varieties from other companies.
Managing director Simon Howell says this year he is planning to conduct a number of plot tours which will be filmed live, observing social distancing.
“We plan to film live virtual plot tours so farmers and agronomists can join in and email questions while we are doing a video of the plot,” he says.
Notable trials at the site this year include a yellow rust nursery where varieties are challenged to see how long their resistance to the disease lasts and screening the whole portfolio of BYDV resistant varieties coming in, says Mr Howell.
He says while conventional plot tours often last half a day, webinars including the virtual plot tours will last for about 30 minutes plus 10-15 minutes for questions.
“We need to keep control of the numbers of questions so we will set them up for a limited number of people.”
The format is likely to consider one topic per session, such as quality wheats, yellow rust or BYDV, with each section repeated as the season progresses, says Mr Howell.
Rather than visitors just getting a snapshot of trials on one day under conventional circumstances, one benefit of virtual plot tours could be the opportunity they offer to look at crops at different stages.
“This could be really interesting, but we will need to meet the software challenges and won’t really know the extent of these until we start doing it,” says Mr Howell.
Website: ragtseeds.co.uk Twitter: @RAGTseedsUK
NIAB says it is planning to release videos of a range of demonstration plot tours, alongside various other extension and advisory information that would traditionally accompany its demonstration plots in the form of posters.
Most of the information is likely go online in June, tying up with what would have been the Cereals Event and NIAB’s own series of open days. Some videos may only be available to NIAB’s membership, but it hopes to deliver a substantial amount of material with open access on its corporate website – niab.com and social media platforms.
The aim is to cover:
Each video will feature different NIAB specialists and advisers, for example winter wheat with Clare Leaman; new fungicides with Bill Clark; alternative legumes, Jane Thomas; and soils management, Elizabeth Stockdale.
Regional agronomy teams are planning to hold virtual field day meetings online with NIAB’s membership and have already begun producing advisory videos and podcasts.
Website: niab.com Twitter: @NIABgroup
Frontier Agriculture normally arranges farmer visits to its trials and demonstration sites throughout the growing season, however, this has come to a rapid stop due to coronavirus restrictions.
Andrew Flux, group commercial strategy director at Frontier, says the company is communicating technical information to customers in a variety of ways, depending on how they want to receive it.
Its Frontrunner blogs include expert advice about what is being seen in trial plots.
Mr Flux says: “We are also taking video footage of trial plots and demos. We are offering expert commentary in video conferences where small customer groups can talk to experts about specific topics.
“We will host broadcast type events where growers can listen to the experts, see [virtual] plot tours and get an insight into the work we are doing.”
Drone footage of crops is already being shot, which Mr Flux says will be made available for customers to see.
“We will have trials of varieties, application protocols, and the Frontier demo site showing work around rotations, crop nutrition and mapping data for the Soyl business. Everything we do as a business we will continue to deliver, but in a different way,” says Mr Flux.
Frontier’s David Robinson, is head of crop dynamics, which delivers impartial agronomy advice to growers.
Normally he visits seven grower groups, spread from Grantham to Berwick-upon-Tweed, seven times a year, as well as supplying them with crop notes, website and telephone access.
Mr Robinson says: “I have organised video conference meetings to allow these groups to still come together, albeit in a virtual format. The system is still new to me and all those involved but it does allow me to discuss agronomy, crop inputs cultivations and any other topics raised with the whole group, allowing everyone to benefit from any questions which are asked.
“Perhaps more importantly, it also helps break the feeling of isolation. Although not the same as an in-field live discussion, the feedback has been very positive.”
Website: frontierag.co.uk Twitter: @FrontierAg
With its network of innovation centres, which hold a large array of agronomic demonstration trials and varieties, and its focus sites, which have become national benchmark resources for integrated crop management techniques in black-grass and ryegrass control, Syngenta is keen to disseminate results.
Although conventional visits by growers to the sites on hold, the use of new video and virtual trials tour technologies is going to be integral to reporting the company’s findings this season.
On the ryegrass focus site at Doncaster, site manager Andy Cunningham has become adept at setting up a video camera in the field and producing reports in the style he would present to a farmer group at the site.
Syngenta innovation sites and focus sites now have video cameras and trialists are being shown how to use them and what to look for, according to the company.
As well as video trials tours, there is also the facility to hold live Zoom meetings in the field, so livestream watchers can ask questions and discuss among themselves what they are seeing, to get feedback and interaction, says Syngenta.
Website: Syngenta.co.uk/search/events Twitter: @SyngentaCropsUK
Hutchinsons says it will continue to invest in its national and regional trials sites, as it does every season.
Work at the company’s regional technology centres throughout the country on a wide range of soil types, crops and inputs will also go on through the season.
Stuart Hill, head of technology and innovation at Hutchinsons, says: “The only difference from having an open day as such, will be the way we share the results.
“With the uncertainty around open days, we are bringing our work from the regions to the grower with Fieldwise LIVE.
“Our aim is to be able to bring live, in-season regular updates to growers on what is happening in crops.
“This will be done through a series of live videos from all our trials sites at regular intervals during the season, which will be hosted on our new website,” he explains.
“By logging onto the bespoke Fieldwise LIVE section of the website, it will be possible to access these videos to see the latest on how crops are progressing through the season in real-time, and the best advice on how to manage them from our leading technical experts and agronomists, who are fully equipped and ready to roll.”
Website: hlhltd.co.uk Twitter: @Hutchinsons_Ag
Having cancelled forthcoming events, AHDB says it is now conducting more webinars than originally planned.
The topic at one of AHDB’s Monitor Farm meetings on April 1 was ‘How to make the most of the RL’. Due to the coronavirus situation, it ran this event as a webinar instead. For more information, visit ahdb.org.uk/cerealswebinars
In the absence of open days, AHDB says its varieties team remains on hand for specific RL enquiries, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Its variety selection tool is available for winter wheat and spring barley. Visit: ahdb.org.uk/news/new-rl-offers-stronger-choice-for-cereal-and-oilseed-rape-growers.
Website: ahdb.org.uk/cereals-oilseeds Twitter: @AHDB_Cereals
BASF is still finalising its communications approach, however, Phillippa Overson, head of crop campaign marketing, says: “We have an ever-growing interest in the Real Results community we have been developing with farmers over the past four years.
“Our plan is to continue with the trials and support the farmers and their advisers with digital events and resources. There is certainly an appetite from them not to lose contact with the community given the number of farmers who have been in touch with us since lockdown started.”
Website: agricentre.basf.co.uk/en Twitter: @BASFcropUK
Like so many other organisations, British Beet Research Organisation (BBRO) has had to cancel its field-based summer open days.
This spring, the field team drilled more than 30 trials and 4,200 plots across nine sites and 50 hectares.
Growers may not be able to physically join the BBRO in-field this summer, but this does stop BBRO going direct to growers. This will include the use of conferencing technology and BBRO is also talking with colleagues in Australia who have been using 360-degree drone technology, which it hopes to utilise to create a virtual farm walk.
A programme of short presentations has been planned:
July 6: RL 2021 varieties and Conviso technology: Presented by Mike May (RL Board Chairman) and Daniel Godsmark (BBRO).
July 7: Varietal traits: Pest & disease resistance and drought tolerance. Presented by Dr Alistair Wright (BBRO) and Georgina Barratt (PhD student with University of Nottingham).
July 8: Soil Management: variable drilling, drill testing results and nutrition. Presented by Dr Simon Bowen (BBRO) and Stephen Aldis (BBRO).
July 9: Putting the ABC (Aphids-Beneficials-Control) into IPM. Presented by: Prof Mark Stevens (BBRO).
July 10: Beeting Change with BBRO.
Join BBRO via its website link to speak to the team and hear growers’ questions.
Website: bbro.co.uk Twitter: @BBRO_Beet
Agrii will also be taking many of its events online, after it planned more than 60 field-based summer events from its national iFarm network, many demonstration sites and Technology Centres at Throws Farm, Stow Longa, AgriiFocus and Bishop Burton.
Mr Lloyd says: “Further work on soil structure and health, sustainably integrated with the launch of our digital technology farms, were all going to feature this year. We are recording the progress and evolution of our trials and demonstrations, assessing their development with commentary and findings to deliver a virtual tour.”
The Agrii programme will start in June as the site summaries become available to view on its dedicated web channel.
Viewers can expect to hear the latest key variety information from Colin Lloyd as well as practical advice from the technical team Jim Carswell, Steve Corbett, David Felce, ably supported by local agronomists.
“This will cover in-depth research into emerging crop protection challenges, including bio-solutions as well as classical agrochemical investigations” adds Mr Lloyd.
Online events and technical updates will enable viewers to collect CPD points. More details will be announced in the coming weeks on Agrii’s digital channels, including agrii.co.uk
Colin Lloyd, head of agronomy, says: “This year, further work on soil structure and health, sustainably integrated with the launch of our digital technology farms were all going to feature. We are recording the progress and evolution of our trials and demonstrations, assessing their development with commentary and findings to deliver a virtual tour.”
Website: agrii.co.uk Twitter: @AgriiUK
Agricology is working with its partners to support farmers in isolation by providing opportunities to connect with each other and keep learning, following the cancellation of its field events.
Katie Bliss, knowledge exchange manager at Agricology, says: “We’re putting together a calendar of events online and podcasts and videos, all of which will be available on the website.
“We’ve got virtual field days which we were planning on doing on-farm around the country in partnership with the Campaign for the Farmed Environment and Leaf. We’ll be taking that online with Zoom calls so participants can interact on webinars as we go on virtual walks around farms.”
Agricology is also planning virtual discussions in collaboration with major events such as Cereals.
Ms Bliss adds: “This will be an opportunity for questions and answers on key agroecological practices and themes, and for growers to engage and share their own experiences.
“We’ll keep creating vlogs and we’re also launching podcasts – one with farmer profiles and one on specific practices.”
For a list of virtual events from Agricology and its partners including intercropping and IPM in arable systems, visit: agricology.co.uk/join/events
Website: agricology.co.uk Twitter: @Agricology