Neil Buchanan: Time to review and recharge

Article taken from the Arable Farming

Another year and another festive season long gone, leaving only my expanded waistline as a reminder. Roll on spring and the chance to walk all those acres.

In the meantime, this time of year provides a different type of workload: A chance to review last season's strategies and the opportunity to recharge the knowledge banks. There is a huge wealth of information out there which needs to be understood, assimilated and transferred appropriately to clients. In a lot of respects we are the interface between innovative technical advances and practical modern farming. Research is part of our lifeblood but it has to be pertinent and relevant in order to provide those obvious and much needed developments.

Results from pre-Christmas PCN soil sampling are flooding into my inbox and I will need accurate interpretation. We are still suffering from our failure to treat low egg counts all those years ago. There remains much discussion as to why this happened but in my view much of the blame lies with insufficient sampling and the selection pressure exerted by excessive acreages of certain varieties. Sustainable rotations are key to successful potato growing and too much reliance on granule efficacy can end in tears. It is no surprise improvements in application practice and machinery have been beneficial to many growers. Nematicide applicators need their pre-season rotor and calibration check now. Overdosing not only has cost issues but also scary residue implications. Planting of crops for biofumigation remains in its infancy, but I feel there is enough encouragement in this area to warrant further trials. Who knows, we may be very grateful for this option in the future.

The bureaucrats have been busy as well. The Sustainable Use Directive has arrived from the European Union. Its aim is to reduce farmers' reliance on pesticides and encourage a greater uptake of IPM principles, and this is absolutely right. What it doesn't recognise is how many growers are already well down this road. Chemical solutions have never been a substitute for good farming, but rather a symbiotic partner to help farmers achieve what they do best - producing good quality food.


Many of these worthwhile concepts already figure in current farm assurance schemes and I don't think it will be long before they show up as cross-compliance requirements. Yet again, my paperwork burden looks set to increase.

And then we have the Grandfather issue; from November 2015 all your expertise, skill, and experience in the art of spraying will count for nothing.  A certificate of competence will be needed even to spray on your own will be needed even to spray on your own land. I can see the sense and logic behind the decision and I just hope the trainers have lots of patience and a sense of humour! It seems a ' long way off at the moment, just don't put it to and forget about it.

A recent trip to one of the latest machinery events has left me realising how 'unsmart' I am. Displays and demonstrations of the most awesome technology shows how progressive our industry has become and with it, the specialist skills of a new generation of operators. This trend is here to stay and should be embraced by all who come into contact with it. However, understanding it is a different issue altogether and I would never make a good geek.

Agronomist facts
  • Neil Buchanan is an Agrovista agronomist based in Shropshire. He advises clients across the West Midlands, growing cereals, oilseed rape, pulses and potatoes


24 February 2014

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