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Talking Agronomy with Neil Buchanan Focusing on costs of production

Autumn, that season of mists and mellow fruitfulness - well nearly anyway.
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We have endured record high September temperatures followed by the inevitable October monsoons. No matter, crops look well and the benefits of good establishment can be clearly seen.


Oilseed rape drilling went smoothly for us in the West. Seedbed conditions and moisture levels were kind and, in most cases, the perceived threat from flea beetle simply did not materialise. This is a far cry from the trauma experienced by colleagues in the East. Vigilance over aphid levels remains key this autumn. TuYV is a bigger yield robber than many think.


Phoma is starting to appear and treatments have started or have been scheduled. This year sees the arrival of new chemistry to combat this disease and trials data looks very encouraging, but flusilazole was a genuinely cost effective molecule and will be a tough act to follow.


My Clearfield acreage continues to grow and it is immensely satisfying to finally have an effective weapon against rogue brassica weeds.


No more bright yellow fields in autumn, but it still needs careful placement within the correct rotation.


Black-grass germination has been vigorous and the residual components of the programme are starting to be applied as the temperatures begin their winter decline. With current prices so poor, its place in the rotation has to be justified by achieving good grass-weed control.


Cereal drilling started early over here, helped by the favourable weather and a quick turnaround from the seed trade. Correct choice of variety and seed dressing in this slot is essential and there aren’t too many of them. Conditions have proved suitable for stale seedbeds and many have taken full advantage of this, but there is also evidence of a return to the plough where brome species are on the rampage.


This approach allows both residual and contact herbicides more of a fighting chance to make a worthwhile contribution to overall weed control.


What we need now is a weather window in November so the next part of the strategy can be implemented. Without that, I fear control levels may dip down to last year’s levels.


So far this season, slug issues have not been a major source of grief. Well-consolidated seedbeds have played a major role along with prompt pellet application in high risk situations. Despite improved adherence to metaldehyde stewardship, it looks likely the guidelines will become even more stringent in time for next autumn. This will put massive emphasis on ferric phosphate. I have no concerns over efficacy, just about availability in a bad year.


Current weak market prices always tend to focus the mind on the economics of crop production. In any margin analysis, input costs will always come under close scrutiny and rightly so. Justification becomes even more important, not just for financial reasons, but to ensure compliance with protocols and environmental considerations. We all take great pride in growing good crops but they have to deliver a return. Few people can afford to farm recreationally.


Can I work to a reduced budget? Yes, maybe, when my crystal ball is working well, and I get a weather forecast that is accurate.


Spotting the opportunities to reduce costs without harming yield potential won’t be easy, but it is a challenge we should all grasp.


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