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Crop Advice & Expertise

Trials and tribulations of a trials agronomist - part 3

April is starting to motor on and despite a covering of snow on Saturday morning it is finally looking like temperatures are increasing and crops are generally moving on well. Now is a particularly busy time within the trials team. All spring trial sites have been found which were based on varietal traits, crop disease pressure and accessibility. Now the attention has been drawn to drilling spring crops and the various foliar spray applications required for all crops.

Crops are slightly behind where they were this time last year and in amongst the April showers the vast majority of T1s have been completed on the barley. This is the first key timing and the most important in barley. It is applied at the start of stem extension to provide protection from common diseases such as rhynchosporium, net blotch, powdery mildew and brown rust all of which can have significantly negative implications on grain yield.

I was relieved earlier this month to drill a spring oilseed rape variety trial which amongst Bayer’s seeds business is a small, but significant part of our product portfolio. Differences between varieties in terms of plant establishment, vigour, flowering timing and height can be remarkable when seen in field conditions and it will be an interesting trial to monitor as the season progresses. I am now hoping that the flee beetle doesn’t find it! 

Each plot is hand sprayed using a 2.5m boom. 

Wilkins T1 spray fig2 The brass treatment bottles on my front contain enough mixture to spray four plots and are pressurised by a compressed air diving bottle.
OSR drilling The spring oilseed rape was planted on the 8th of April into a good seedbed.

Drilling in trials is a two man operation requiring someone to sit on the drill and place each individual packet of seed into the hopper. One packet contains enough seed for one plot and given that an average trial can comprise of 40-60 plots this can be a lot of packets and in some instances a bit of juggling!

Carrots too are another crop to have a specific and highly accurate drill to plant the seed. This particular trial was drilled earlier this week in some great conditions now that the ground is finally starting to dry up.

Carrots drill
All data collected through trials run by Bayer is collated and put forward for the Biological Assessment Dossier (BAD). This is a detailed summary of all relevant trials performed to support the product label claims. After a minimum of 2 years of trials, the data is presented to a relevant central regulatory zone national regulatory body such as CRD in the UKfor evaluation and hopefully product registration. Trials data required for product approvals which are collected by my colleagues and I include those of efficacy, crop selectivity of the target crop and following crop residue studies on the target crop and soil. It usually takes 10-12 years of field trials and laboratory based studies to get a product on the market from the initial compound discovery. Typically around 160,000 compounds need to be synthesised to get one product registered. No wonder it costs around £200m to find, develop and register a product to use on farm*.

The focus of the next few weeks for me will be on T1 and T2 timings in wheat and monitoring disease progress in all of my fungicide trials. The end of May will also be a time for blackgrass head counts which will be the final and most decisive assessment for my autumn and spring herbicide trials.

*Phillips MacDougall analysis April 2016