NEWS: RAU win Countrywide NIAB Agronomy Cup as the best student wheat growers

19 Dec 2014

Four final year BSc (Hons) Agriculture students from the Royal Agricultural University have successfully tested their crop management skills against agricultural students from across the UK, and a team of agronomists, to win the 2014 Countrywide NIAB Agronomy Cup.

Poppy de Pass, Elice Willett, Matt Clarke and Elwyn Thomas, RAU’s Team B and final year BSc (Hons) Agriculture students, achieved the highest gross margin in the competition with a 9.78 t/ha yield and an input cost of £87.10/ha, beating 16 other teams to lift the Cup. The team also wins a day out with a NIAB TAG agronomist, free entry to a NIAB TAG technical conference and a £100 Countrywide voucher for each team member. 

Open to agriculture and crop science students from universities and colleges across the UK, the competition, sponsored by Countrywide Farmers, is based on the outcome of a team’s agronomy, farm management and agricultural decision-making skills. 

2014’s competition was the largest yet of what is a unique event. “It is really gratifying to see the competition attract so many entrants and grow in stature within the arable community,” says Simon Smith, Sales Director at Countrywide Farmers. “It is a unique event in that agronomic decisions are tested on fully-replicated field plots at NIAB trials sites local to each team. This emphasises the importance of basing recommendations on field observations and local conditions, which will influence agronomic decisions.  This year there were double the number of plots and an extra four sites across the country. Our congratulations go to the talented RAU team.” 

Competition sites in 2014 were at NIAB’s regional centres at Morley, Harper Adams, Cambridge, Berwick, Headley Hall, Caythorpe, Newton Abbot and at Cirencester, where the Royal Agricultural University’s plots were based. Most universities and colleges entered more than one team; the Berwick site had to accommodate three teams from Newcastle University.

“All teams made agronomic input decisions on the winter wheat variety Cordiale at a NIAB field trials site local to their college or university, with NIAB TAG trials officers applying the recommendation to the plots,” explains the competition’s co-ordinator Ian Midgley.  

Replicated plots means a proper evaluation of the entrants’ decisions with the winning entry judged on the basis of improvement in margin (£/ha) compared to a standard agronomy treatment, costing £96.85/ha. But the real focus is on engagement between students and NIAB TAG’s staff. 

“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,” said Mr Midgley. “It is an invaluable learning experience.” 

Coming second, and also based at Cirencester, the Countrywide Agronomists achieved a higher yield with 9.97 t/ha, but spent more on inputs at £131.63/ha. Although Cordiale was used for all the competition plots, none achieved milling standard despite obvious planning by some of the teams. 

Taking into account the fact that last year’s wheat on the same field also failed to reach milling standard, the RAU team decided against putting extra nitrogen on and possibly wasting money. 

Team captain Poppy explained that their fungicide strategy was based on the team’s field observations. They chose Adexar (ai epoxiconazole and fluxapyroxad) with Bravo (ai chlorothalonil) for T2 as septoria was present in the lowest leaves across the plots and is usually a problem in the area. Their mind was made-up following a medium warning on CropMonitor for the following week. The long-term weather forecast suggested unsettled weather so they followed up with Proline (ai prothioconazole) for T3 to protect the yield and quality. If there had been rust the team would have added a strobilurin. 

The highest yielding plots were at the NIAB Berwick site. The NIAB standard plots yielded 12.26 t/ha with Newcastle University’s Team C achieving the highest competition plot yield, but also the highest input costs at £199.81/ha. Askham Bryan College Team A spent the least on their plots at only £86.75, with a 93.56% margin against the site standard. 

The final results of the 2014 Countrywide NIAB Agronomy Cup were: 

1          Royal Agricultural University Team B
2          Countrywide Agronomists
3          Harper Adams University Team A
4          Moulton College Team A
5          Easton & Otley College Team A
6          Lincoln University
7          Royal Agricultural University Team A
8          Duchy College Team A 

Also taking part were Newcastle University Teams A, B & C, Harper Adams University Team B, Askham Bryan College Teams A & B, Duchy College Team B, Moulton College Team B & Easton & Otley College Team B 

Where are the winning team members now?

  • Poppy de Pass (captain) is working at NIAB Sutton Scotney as a trials officer
  • Elice Willett is in New Zealand, on a six-month contract for Monsanto growing vegetables for seed
  • Matt Clarke is in the late stages of applying to go back to IRRI to work on a C4 rice project
  • Elwyn Thomas is working for a contract farming business 

Winning Countrywide NIAB Agronomy Cup crop recommendation



(Pictured is captain Poppy and Elwyn who picked up their award at the NIAB TAG Western Results Conference on 11 December)