Four agriculture students from Newcastle University have successfully tested their crop management skills against teams from across the UK to win the 2015 NIAB Agronomy Cup and the title ‘the best student wheat growers in the country’.
Joe Campbell, Andrew Hunter, George Senior and Peter Armstrong Foxton, final year students in BSc Agriculture with Honours in Farm Business Management, achieved the highest gross margin in the competition at £1,540.83/ha, based on a yield of 15.61 t/ha and an input cost of £82.30/ha. They beat 16 other university and college teams to lift the cup and win a day out with a NIAB TAG agronomist, free entry to a NIAB TAG members technical conference and a £50 book voucher each.
From left to right: Agric B's George Senior, Joe Campbell, Andrew Hunter and Peter Armstrong Foxton
The winners all come from family farming backgrounds; Andrew’s are arable farmers in East Lothian, George’s family are sheep farmers near Huddersfield, Peter has a Cumbrian upland farming background and Joe’s family farms beef and sheep near Durham.
The competition, which has been running since 2012, is open to agriculture and crop science students from universities and colleges across the UK. Competition sites are at NIAB’s regional centres at Morley, Harper Adams, Cambridge, Cirencester, Sutton Scotney, Newton Abbot and Berwick, where Newcastle University’s plots were based.
Most universities and colleges entered more than one team; the Berwick site had to accommodate four competing teams from Newcastle, with three of the teams finishing in the top eight. The site is particularly high yielding with an untreated yield of 13.57 t/ha, but the competition is judged on a number of factors, including margin as well as yield, so the Newcastle students had no advantage.
NIAB TAG’s national trials co-ordinator Ian Midgley says: “The competition challenges a team’s agronomy, farm management and agricultural decision-making skills. It differs to other plot competitions as teams make input decisions for the winter wheat variety Cordiale on a NIAB field trials site local to their college or university, which emphasises the importance of basing recommendations on field observations and local conditions. NIAB TAG trials officers apply the recommendation to fully-replicated field plots; we make it clear that their recommendations must be in on time and ask that they fully explain their decision-making.”
The replicated plots allow a proper evaluation of the entrants’ decision-making, including milling tests, with aspects such as improvement in margin compared to a standard NIAB £95.53/ha agronomy treatment taken into account in the final judgement. Across all the competition plots the highest yield was 15.68 t/ha (104.8% of site standard), the lowest yield was 9.44 t/ha (99.2% of site standard), the highest input costs were £121.57/ha and the lowest input costs were £71.23/ha.
With guidance from Dr Stephen Wilcockson, who recently retired after 36 years as a lecturer in crop production at Newcastle University, the winning ‘Agric B’ team decided that a broad spectrum T0 fungicide was unnecessary due to low disease levels in the crop.
Team captain Joe Campbell says: “We began with Bravo (ai chlorothalonil) at a higher rate to combat septoria and provide protection to the crop. Fortunately we anticipated a dry spring so recommended a lower rate of Adexar (ai epoxiconazole + fluxapyroxad) at T1, reducing any septoria and rust in the lower leaves and providing systemic protection before T2. We decided to go with the standard rate of chlormequat for T0 but a higher rate in T1, as the wheat followed oilseed rape and so a higher supply of mineralised nitrogen should have been available to the crop.”
For the T2 timing the team chose Aviator (ai bixafen + prothioconazole) to provide additional control of all the major diseases, keeping the rate low again because of the low septoria pressure. Folicur (ai tebuconazole) was chosen at T3 to control ear blight and provide moderate control of any septoria or rust left in the crop to protect quality. No additional N was applied as they felt it was an unnecessary cost considering historically very few teams in the competition have achieved milling quality.
“The teams are encouraged to use the plots as a learning opportunity through the season, visiting the plots to make their own observations and assessments of crop development and diseases - all the time finding out more about field experimental practice and crop protection practices from trial officers and agronomists,” says Mr Midgley.
“When the students are unable to visit regularly, which happened with the Newcastle teams, our trials officers supply them with information, photographs and disease assessments so they could keep track of how their plots were progressing. The winning team ‘Agric B’ even considered the environmental implications when deciding whether to add extra nitrogen.”
The final results of the 2015 NIAB Agronomy Cup:
1 Agric B - Newcastle University
2 Unbelievable, Jeff! – Duchy College
3 Eat, Sleep, Wheat, Repeat - Harper Adams University