NEWS: Harper Adams wins NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup competition

22 Feb 2013

Harper Adams University (HAU) has won the NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup, a new annual national winter wheat trial competition aimed solely at agriculture students.

Ben Gooding, Rob Hosker, Alex McCormack and Howard Tratt from HAU’s FdSc Agriculture course beat students from Easton College, Newcastle University, The Royal Agricultural College, Lincoln University, Sparsholt College and fellow students from HAU’s BSc Agriculture course to take the 2012 title and a £2,000 cash prize for HAU.

The NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup differs from other trial-based crop competitions as the students’ agronomic decisions are tested on fully-replicated field plots of Cordiale winter wheat at a NIAB TAG trials site local to them rather than at one central location. The winning team was judged according to the margin achieved over the ‘standard’ and ‘untreated’ plots on their competition site.Ben Gooding, Alexander McCormack and Howard Tratt checking their competition plots at the NIAB TAG Harper Adams trials site (Rob Hosker not present).

NIAB TAG’s Patrick Stephenson explained that the competition emphasises the importance of field observations, basing decisions on those observations and then understanding and interpreting the results from field trials.

“Keeping it local allows the students to make site visits and compare the impact of local and regional differences in agronomy, growing conditions, and timing across the UK, and can better reflect local choices. The majority of the teams returned a higher margin that the ‘standard agronomy’ demonstrating the real value of tailoring agronomy to specific situations,” said Mr Stephenson.

The Harper Adams FdSc team recognised and capitalised on the very specific situation at their site where the standard fertiliser and fungicide inputs were sub-optimal and disease pressure was high. The team analysed the standard inputs carefully and ensured a robust programme of flag leaf and ear sprays and a considerably increased nitrogen fertiliser application. Their entry provided a significant increase in crop yield and, more importantly, margin over input costs.

“The winning yield was 22% higher than the standard input plots. While the level of yield increase required more expenditure, over £120/ha more than the standard spent mainly on additional nitrogen, careful choice of products and rates meant that the return on that investment was considerable,” said Mr Stephenson.

Rob and Alex were presented with the Agronomy Cup in front of delegates at the NIAB TAG Outlook Conference. HAU senior crop lecturer Dr John Reade accepted the £2,000 bursary from NIAB TAG to go towards teaching agronomy and crop science at the University.

NIAB TAG’s Patrick Stephenson congratulates Robert Hosker and Alex McCormack on winning the NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup

Dr Reade believed that the NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup had proven to be a very valuable opportunity for his students to put into practice what they had learnt in class and on work placement.

“The team showed great enthusiasm for the competition, regularly meeting and discussing possible options before settling on the final recommendations. They also visited the local NIAB TAG trial site several times to observe what was needed and the consequences of their recommendations.

“The NIAB TAG Agronomy Cup is a great way to allow young people to put knowledge into practice and serves as a valuable insight into a career in agronomy. I very much look forward to co-ordinating a team for the 2013 season,” said Dr Reade.

NIAB TAG Harper Adams centre manager Catherine Johnson supervised the winning team’s site visits with local Shropshire host grower Chris Edwards supplying the commercial winter wheat field to conduct the trials.

“The FdSc Agriculture team were focused on winning from the outset and I received accurate progress reports from Alex throughout the season. They showed particular attention to our information on soil type, population counts, accurate growth stages, disease levels and variety and used the data well in their decision-making on agrochemical inputs and crucial application timings. This was despite a very difficult growing season and high disease pressures. I think many established growers would be envious of the final quality, yield and gross margins achieved by the team,” said Ms Johnson.

NIAB TAG is looking for partners and sponsors for the 2013 competition. All the 2012 competitors have signed up for the 2013 competition. They will be joined by teams from Shuttleworth College and Moulton College who will share a new competition trials site at NIAB Cambridge.