The Strategic Farm East open day, led by Brian Barker, aimed to inspire farmers to ‘break away from the mentality of always doing the same.’ Alice Dyer attended the event.
AHDB’s Strategic Farm East in Suffolk, showcased a number of independent demonstrations, including reduced inputs, cover crop systems, and early crop nutrition, aimed to help farmers assess the possibility of changing approaches on their own farms.
In a bid to maintain disease control and reduce inputs, the Strategic Farm is looking at the performance of winter wheat under reduced fungicide applications to determine the effect it has on varieties with different disease ratings and cost of production.
The varieties Siskin, Shabras, Graham and Santiago which are all grown on the farm, as well as Silverstone, were drilled on October 2 and treated with high, medium, low and no fungicide strategies in 2.5 hectare plots.
Varieties will be assessed for foliar disease and green leaf area at all of the key disease growth stage timings, with results from the trial being announced in November.
Paul Gosling, AHDB crop protection scientist said: “It used to be the case that only 20% of crops needed a T0 and now it is more like 80%. This has sustainability implications for both cost and the environment.
“50% of septoria now has a mutation which gives it low to moderate resistance, and 2018 saw two new strains of completely resistant septoria.”
Other trials are looking into the effect that starter fertilisers and their application have in early winter wheat biomass and end yield is also being investigated at Lodge Farm.
Three products, polysulphate, TSP and kiesterite were both placed and broadcast at drilling.
Preliminary results suggest the use of starter fertilisers, particularly when placed, can increase speed of emergence.
Ian Watson of Sustainable Soil Management said: “Later drilling into cold, damp soil means nutritional availability goes down.
“In the autumn there was a noticeable visual difference in areas treated with polysulphate, and crops where it was placed were up and away before anything else.”
However, despite early differences, all plots, including untreated now look the same to the eye. In a more challenging growing season, or where slug damage is an issue, earlier observations made could be more permanent.
“Early biomass doesn’t necessarily mean higher yield,” added Mr Watson. “Crops with greater biomass need to be managed properly throughout the year and will have greater nutritional requirements.”
Full results will be available post-harvest.
With nitrate removal from water being one of the biggest challenges for UK water companies, trials at the Strategic Farm have looked into how cover crops and establishment systems can play a role in improving water quality.
Nitrate concentration in field drains was measured from four plots - an oil radish and rye mix into ploughed soil, oil radish and rye direct drilled into stubble, over-winter stubble and a ploughed field left bare.
Where soil was left bare, 300mgN was measured, compared to the cover cropped area which measured just 7-8mgN, according to Ian Skinner of Essex & Suffolk Water.
He said: “Cover crops were considerably more effective than over winter stubble which had around 120mgN, which was still much better than ploughed land.”
However, cover crops in the one-pass system performed even worse than bare soil, thought to be down to poor establishment of the crop.
Winter crops have also showed positive results in reducing N leaching, according to Mr Skinner who said winter barley far outweighed other winter crops in terms of reducing leaching.
Destruction of cover crop is something Brian Barker has experimented with on the farm, concluding the ‘golden hoof’ was the best solution.
He said: “We brought back sheep using two local shepherds. This adds loads of manure and nutrients, removes biomass, cuts down on glyphosate application, and it’s great for wildlife, biodiversity and public perception.
“Farmers need to work together. This is the sort of two-way relationship we need to be working with.”
Brian Barker of E.J. Barker & Sons is coming to the end of his second year as the AHDB Strategic Cereal Farm East farmer. Lodge Farm is a family farm partnership in Westhorpe in Suffolk.
The 513ha arable farm business uses a 12-year rotation, incorporating winter wheat for feed, herbage grass seed and break crops of spring barley, beans and linseed. The Strategic Farm programme runs for six years.