Groups of students from across the country will be putting down their text books and putting theory into practice in an attempt to grow a winning crop of peas. Abby Kellett reports.
The Cereals Challenge, which is run annually by farm management company, Velcourt and crop advisory business, Hutchinsons, the 2016 Challenge aims to give participants an insight into the life of an agronomist. Each team will determine all of its own agronomic inputs and decisions, including variety, seed rate and crop protection applications.
Since 2016 marks the international year of pulses, it is even more fitting that students will be producing a crop of peas, a crop which is typically challenging to grow.
At stake is a £1000 cash prize to be shared among the winning team, along with £500 for the winning university or college.
Nominated students from a number of agricultural colleges and universities have already undergone a selection process during which they have had to display their knowledge of field peas and agronomy.
The six teams which now have the task of growing their own pea crop include…
The teams of up to four, gathered near Cambridge for the launch of the competition and to find out the finer details of the task ahead.
Each team was allocated a trial plot at the Cereals Event site at Chrishall Grange, North Duxford, where their final pea crops will be displayed and judged by a panel of pulse experts on June 15.
At the launch, teams were assigned the task of choosing a variety from a selected list, choosing a seed dressing, providing drilling instructions and information about potential nutrient applications.
They were given the plot history in terms of cultivation methods and weed status as well as soil test results indicating soil nutrient status, pH and soil type in order to help them their decisions.
Nick Shorter, farm director at Velcourt urged the teams to think carefully about their target market.
He said: “Achieving high gross margins only comes with crop quality. If you are going for the human consumption market and you don’t meet quality standards, you will miss out on the premium and will achieve lower yields.”
From their choices it was clear the teams saw potential in blue pea variety, Prophet and the marrowfat variety Sakura, as they were the only two varieties selected.
However there was plenty of variation between agronomy decisions with seed rates varying from 268 to 328 kg/ha and with pre-drilled potassium sulphate rates varying from 20 to 60kg hectare.
From here on in, teams will be instructing the field applications manager on what inputs to apply to their plots, what rates to apply them at and at what time.
They will be expected to justify their decisions with sound agronomic theory based on climatic conditions and disease pressures along with other factors.
Ultimately, they will be judged on technical merit, their gross margin figures, the quality and timeliness of recommendations and on their communication, all with various weightings.
To have a look at the final crops, visit the Velcourt stand at Cereals 2016. The winners will be announced on day one of the event (June 15).