Future-proofing cropping hinges on blackgrass, R&D and realistic FBT prices

Twitter: @russbmckenzie


Biog: Russ farms 750ha, spread over 17 miles and four units, between Cambs and Beds. He grows predominantly first wheats (mostly for seed) with winter barley, oilseed rape, spring beans and spring barley. He describes himself as not form a farming family, but as having loved everything about farming since a very young age, starting with a harvest job on a local farm when he was 13.  He graduated from Writtle College with a BSc in Agriculture and then took on a trainee manager’s position with Albanwise Farming in Norfolk.  Russ is BASIS and FACTS qualified and is a partner in his wife’s family farming business which he jointly manages along with John Sheard Farms.  He has recently undertaken a Nuffield Farming scholarship, sponsored by AHDB, researching how the best no-till practitioners across the world manage to make the system work in both the wettest and driest of conditions which took him to Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, USA, Brazil and Argentina.  “I love being involved in such a fantastic industry and outside of work I am along suffering England Cricket fan, husband and father to two lovely (sometimes) children!” Oh and he’s an avid Tweeter!

Title: Future-proofing cropping hinges on blackgrass, R&D and realistic FBT prices

My mantra has always been to farm everything to the best of my ability; to achieve the best results possible.  However, despite wanting to expand the area we farm, I find some of the prices being paid for FBTs on combinable crop land unfeasible to justify and impossible from which to make a sensible return. So, I see no sense in taking on extra land with the potential of making a loss as well as increasing our machinery wear! 

I can certainly see rotations developing and changing over the next decade. Oilseed rape’s future has some big question marks over it because of the diminishing returns; also, how much more pulse acreage can the UK market really sustain?  I fear that a countryside full of fallow fields could be a reality and will be an indication of the pressure upon farming returns; and very certainly, this will have a very negative impact upon soil structure.
Innovation and R&D is vital for farming to progress. We need to keep looking to improve and cope with the swings in disease ratings and levels of disease control. We have already adopted important technologies like variable rate P&K. More recently we adopted variable rate seeding which is showing some good results on the fields where we have had the most variation, leading to a more even yield across the whole field.

It is crucial that UK continues to be pioneering and innovative in its research and development of future crop production methods. Looking ahead, I would like to see instant yield map overlaying with soil sampling maps to fine-tune areas even more precisely than we are. I’d also like the ability to map blackgrass areas more accurately and be able to spot rate certain chemical applications specific to the weed – for example plant-count or the type of resistance – this could be a real benefit.

The biggest challenge for us is keeping blackgrass under control, a weed that seems to be able to continually adapt itself to any situation and is possibly one of the biggest threats to sustainable wheat production in the UK.  Coupled with our unpredictable climate, we need to have a robust crop establishment system that can prosper in both wet and dry conditions.

I see the big issues on the horizon as legislation and pesticide regulation – these factors threaten to provide big hurdles for crop production efficiency and the ability to be able to control weeds, pest and diseases in the future.  We need to be able to maintain and use what we currently have, which means that as farmers, it is vital for us to demonstrate judicial and wise use of plant protection products as the pool of resources become more rapidly depleted.

The one thing we are blessed with in this country is a favourable climate, even if August appears to be a regularly dreary month for combining.  I believe that the ability to produce decent quality crops with a focus on export will be important to remain competitive; and although we haven’t seen the impact yet, the basic fact of a growing world population that needs feeding cannot be ignored, we will almost certainly need to produce more food for a wider audience.
Here is the link to download Russell McKenzie’s Nuffield Scholarship Report, Success with No-Till – Under any Conditions.

CropTec 2015:
Want to find out more about new legislations, pesticide regulations R&D or if you have issues with black-grass. Make sure to visit CropTec 2015.
In addition to the free advice on offer in CropTec’s topical and technical seminars, there will be numerous exhibitors you can talk to find ideas, inspiration and answers on everything from crop protection and nutrition to plant breeding and soil management in one place, at one time.
To encourage knowledge exchange among the British farming community further, this year’s event is FREE for farmers to attend. You MUST pre-register online to ensure you receive your free place.
General pre-registered admission: £12, all visitors will charged £15 on the gate on the day of the event.
Twitter: @croptecshow
Facebook: /croptecshow



Nichola Bell

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