- Key goal is to use fewer inputs
- Helps to reduce fungicide spend
- Lower pressure at critical times
Optimising the use of inputs to make production as efficient as possible is a key goal for Norfolk farm manager Toby Hogsbjerg.
“The reduction in the basic payment scheme and prospect of lower incomes [mean] we need to grow crops for less, so reducing costs is a priority,” says Mr Hogsbjerg, of Wicken Farms at Castle Acre, near Swaffham.
Restrictions on agro-chemical products have also fuelled a different approach, he adds. “Given that backdrop, and with less new chemistry in the pipeline, our focus is very much on harnessing developments in plant breeding technology.”
The 900ha privately-owned business produces cereals and root crops. This includes winter wheat and hybrid winter barley.
No set rotation
BASIS qualified, Mr Hogsbjerg does most of the cereal agronomy himself, with input from an independent agronomist. “We don’t really have a set rotation because of all of the root crops which are produced here, both by ourselves and others,” he says.
“We grow a significant area of irrigated crops – 80ha of potatoes on at most a one-in-eight rotation, and 80ha let for onions and parsnips.
“We try to produce as much first wheat as possible, because a second cereal is not ideal on this light land.”
“Growing winter wheat seed commercially works well because ground can be ploughed or min-tilled late after root crops.
This reduces the incidence of disease and aphids, allowing clean seed crops to be produced, says Mr Hogsbjerg.
“Being inland, we don’t have any major disease issues and compared with many other farms our spray programme would be considered fairly light.”
Lower fungicide spend
Enabling spraying decisions to be further refined through fewer, more timely applications based on crop requirements rather than traditional timings is a key aim, says Mr Hogsbjerg.
Another reason he wants to grow more cereal varieties with greater in-built disease resistance is to reduce the pressure on the 24m self-propelled sprayer.
“We grow a significant area of potatoes and it goes through the crop every seven to 10 days, as well as applying liquid fertilisers. We don’t want the added pressure of unplanned fire-engine sprays to protect susceptible cereal varieties.”
This season, Wicken Farms has contracted 150t of Theodore for seed production and the remainder of the 60ha being grown will be sold for feed.
“DSV Theodore is a robust all-round variety with a good all-round disease package. It did all we wanted it to last season from a fungicide spend of just £70/ha.
“Because of the very wet autumn and winter in 2019/20 it was early February before we could get on the land to drill our first crop of Theodore: 20ha for seed.
“It was never going to be our highest-yielding crop but given the circumstances I was pleased with the outcome.”
This year, much of the variety was drilled in reasonable conditions following sugar beet on land that had been ploughed.
The crop went in on 17 October using a combination drill and a “sensible” seed rate of 180kg/ha to provide 350-360 seeds/m2, says Mr Hogsbjerg.
“Theodore was drilled at the right time, came out of winter looking in good and by mid-March was looking promising.”
Sarah Hawthorne of seed breeders DSV says the variety is very much in tune with the times because of its ability to cope with disease threats and potential for lower inputs.
“It also provides growers with greater flexibility in terms of fungicide use when weather and other commitments prevent perfect timing of applications.
“Farmers are increasingly focusing on the overall economics of growing a variety and its resilience in the face of adverse conditions rather than just its outright yield potential.
“DSV Theodore provides hope that genetics will be able to replace the sprayer to a larger degree in the future.”
In the 2021/22 RL, DSV Theodore has the highest septoria resistance score of all listed varieties at 8.3.