If you want a measurement of how interested East Anglian farmers are in fine-tuning their farming practices, and where they know they will find inspiration and practical ideas, then look no further than our latest Morley Innovation Day.
Well over 200 farmers from all over East Anglia came to have conversations with more than 60 specialists and advisors on stands and on sites in the Morley Farm fields.
Yards of width and depth for new heights of productivity
In and around the farmyard buildings, visitors had a wide range of stands to browse and enjoy. A full team from BBRO had a variety of demonstrations and an array of practical opportunities to build understanding of better crop health and disease monitoring. Also on hand, were Certis and PGRO. Agrovista’s Simon Pretty was glad of the solid scientific basis to the advice on offer. “Look around – the host, TMAF, is science-based, NIAB and AHDB are science-based, BBRO is science-based and so are we. The mix of people here is excellent: people who want to listen and to learn.”
AHDB had a big presence with the theme of Integrated Pest Management, as did John Innes with, amongst other things, insights from the latest flea beetle research.
Room for vroom
Machinery innovation was represented. Essex farmer Jeremy Durrant had brought along the Australian-designed and built EMAR chaff deck for a combine harvester. Alongside it, he had the photographic evidence from land he farms close to the M25, to explain the difference it is making as a weed control tool against brome and blackgrass. “One of the most interesting things is how we can use it to get to weeds to compete with weeds in restricted areas. It is providing a new and cost-effective cultural method for farmers to consider to minimise losses from weeds, especially if they are limited on crop rotation options.”
PhD students in attendance had a near-constant stream of questions about their research. TMAF-supported researcher Joe Martlew was enjoying the opportunity to explain his work ‘Quantifying and alleviating deep-seated compaction in arable soils’. “People here today are not wanting ‘thirty second’ chats”, he said. “It’s great that we are having in-depth conversations.” PhD student George Crane, supported by NIAB and Cambridge University, added, “This is a day when farmers are showing me what they already know about the mycorrhiza I am studying as part of my research on cover crops and soil health. They are really interested to see where my work is taking that understanding”.
Significant food for thought was stimulated at the workshop session held by Elizabeth Stockdale, head of Farming Systems at NIAB, where she invited farmers to contribute their thoughts on the on-farm technical measures selected by DEFRA to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of agriculture.
Fascinating stroll with experts in their field
As well as sauntering through the stands there was a trail through the extensive trial plots at Morley Farm with a two-hour, fact-laden guided farm walk for the guests to enjoy. At every stop there was a specialist on hand to explain and interpret the results from plantings, summarise research findings or give personal insights and professional analysis to help decision-making.
First up, NIAB TAG National Trials Co-ordinator Ian Midgley gave a guide to the vital statistics and characteristics of wheat varieties. Also from NIAB, Technical Director Bill Clark was digging into the financial implications of choice of fungicidal treatment. With plenty of live examples to hand from the plots, he gave a comprehensive summary of the options to achieve best varietal response to fungicide treatment now and once new chemistry arrives from 2020. “We will end up putting on less fungicide with new chemistry, he suggested “While manufacturers won’t like it, it does mean that lower dosage will select less for resistance. But the newest varieties are inherently more robust, therefore less risky to grow.”
On soil health, two NIAB researchers shared insights gained from their ongoing work to measure the techniques of improving soil health and the benefits. David Clark reported up to a 15% yield uplift was achieved in plots where a significant quantity of compost had been applied. Nathan Morris explained the comparison underway between ploughing and non-inversion cultivation systems and the effect on costs of production. “Non-inversion systems are 4% ahead because of reduction in costs of establishment.” He added the advice not to get hung up on the cultivation method “but do be prepared to be flexible and use the right system for the soil and situation.”
Finding rewards and avoiding risks in the markets
A refreshingly direct analysis of market opportunities for trading grain was given by George Mason, Senior Executive with Heygates. “I like to be at the Morley Innovation Day because just about everyone here is a grower with decisions they want to make well”, he explained. “Speaking honestly, I explain that there are probably too many varieties today. Growers want to know what are the best to grow, what I will pay a premium for and also where – and how easily – they can sell. More of them are seeing the advantages of selling locally, with the varieties and quality our mills need. But I am also explaining the international options and the challenges ahead when we can’t sell into the EU and have to focus on, for example, North African markets where we have the big challenge of competing with the Russians”.
Takeaways from the day
Suffolk farmer Steve Taylor was at the Morley Innovation Day for the second time. “I make the effort to come to this event because it’s worth it. Events like Cereals have outgrown themselves. This event is going from strength to strength. Last time, because of what I learned here, when I got home I changed my chosen varieties and that decision has paid off.”
Strong attendance, vibrant atmosphere and the serious but accessible science-based evidence of best practice for better decision-making were the ingredients for a feeling of time well spent for both visitors and exhibitors.
It also fuelled the TMAF ambition to make the next Morley Innovation Day as good, and maybe even better.