For over 200 farmers, growers, and advisors who attended the 2023 Morley Innovation Day, there was little risk of leaving the event without something seen or heard to inspire, steer or confirm decision-making.
Plot peering for risk avoidance
One of the most popular features this year, as always, was the guided stroll through the field show of varieties, treated and untreated for different disease pressures.
NIAB Cereal Variety Specialist Clare Leaman has almost thirty years’ experience of varietal evaluation and explanation. Is the interest in the plots and the context for decision-making in 2023 any different? The answer is yes. “Growers are much more interested in risk management. Their interest in the good range of genetics on offer is growing fast. What might not have been taken advantage of before is of interest now. Hands have been forced by fewer products to choose from and the realisation that not all problems can be solved out of a can.”
Change is difficult. The 2023 Innovation Day visitors seemed to take deep interest in the varietal experiences described or questions posed by fellow growers.
Stuart Knight, NIAB Deputy Director and Director of Agronomy, emphatically put the impact on yield of variety choice firmly below the influence of operational factors such as planting date and product choice for disease and pest control.
He was keen to explain – using evidence from fungicide resistance monitoring of, for example, septoria – that fungal resilience is increasing. Only timely, combined and careful product choice and use will get the control that once was considered easy to achieve.
Alternative crop nutrition
Doing something different to get the best yield or, better still, the most margin is definitely making farmers more likely to consider using alternative strategies.
Milo Dring was a beneficiary in 2022 of TMAF financial support to attend the John Forrest Award Communications Skills course. Now an agronomist with Agrovista, Milo put his skills to good use taking groups of visitors through the bioscience behind the new crop nutrition products that his farmer customers have been using for a couple of years.
The commercial and environmental challenge is the same for agronomists and farmers alike: to deliver essential nutrients direct to crop plant, with slower or prolonged release, lower carbon footprint and with as good a yield as conventional nutrition but with benefits to the soil health, less weed and pest problems and – yes, there’s more – all for lower cost.
It’s certainly an exciting time to be a young agronomist with problems to solve.
Visions of the future
Looking around the 2023 Morley Innovation Day central circle of tents and marquees, there are optimistic visions of the future.
Dr Stéphanie Swarbreck had a box full of promise at her feet. In it are planted a number of code-tagged new wheat pre-breeding lines with increased genetic diversity which, she described are being tested in regenerative farming, rather than high input systems, to identify solutions leading to lowering the environmental effect and cost of wheat production.
From the rows of young plants, Dr Swarbreck pulled out a probe that is used to catch and quantify any leachate.
In a marquee lined with scientific posters the five PhD researchers supported by TMAF had the chance to explain the relevance of their work.
Also offering information and advice were Adams & Howling, Anglian Water, AHDB, Agritech E, BBRO, Catchment Sensitive Farming, Horizon Agriculture, John Innes Centre and the Maize Growers Association.
Silver lining to darkening clouds
Seated amidst the tables of visitors and exhibitors eating and drinking together in the shade of umbrellas, Morley Farm Manager David Jones had reason to be happy with the day. The farm he manages for TMAF had provided a compact, inspiring show for the commercially savvy, even through challenging times. He commented that one of the most valued parts of such an event is the chance for farmers and advisors of all types and ages to enjoy talking about common issues and choices. And of those growers who left Morley to their farms under the surrounding dark clouds dropping welcome heavy rain, they had the addition of precipitation to a day of good conversations to feel better about.