2018…when the hoe came back in fashion on the tillage tramlines

2018, in some ways, signalled a new era for the tillage sector. There was a move back to older farming practices, but with modern twists.

At what is effectively the ‘London Fashion Week’ of the tillage sector it was the mechanical weeder and a broader agronomic toolbox that were the key pieces at Cereals 2018.

The loss of some chemicals and the threat to others made the shrinking chemical toolbox smaller. The outcomes of the loss of some of these chemicals is yet to be seen.

For example, the ban on neonicotinoids provides a very real threat to the winter cereal acreage in this country – which has significantly increased this season and is providing the best margin on many farms.

Resistance to pyrethroid based aphicides in recent years means that some aphid populations cannot be controlled with these products and Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV) may therefore prove to be more problematic in the future.

Reliance on chemicals

It is clear that tillage farmers are adapting and no longer want to rely on chemicals, as they become more inquisitive about disease resistant traits in varieties and look more at crop rotation.

There is also an admittance that a tool from every system is needed in order to stay sustainable. Conventional, organic, biological, minimum-tillage – the list goes on and these systems all have advantages, but no one system on its own is perfect and therefore there needs to be more-joined up thinking.

Biological farming conference

The large attendance at this year’s Biological Farming Conference and the variety of farmers and industry representatives (from organic to conventional) in attendance also signalled a move towards more sustainable farming practices.

The conference focused on protecting soil and supplying nutrients and structure through cover cropping. It also emphasised the importance of soil health in keeping plants healthy and reducing disease pressure.

2018 may become known as the year of the mechanical weeder

While there have always been mechanical weeders on farms and indeed a handheld hoe, these machines no doubt became less popular with the introduction of herbicides.

However, a lower availability of herbicides, along with an increased cost to these products and demand for more sustainable production systems, has brought these implements back with a bang.

At this year’s Cereals Event in the UK, mechanical weeders and spot sprayers were dotted across the show – not just any old weeders though.

These weeders have cameras, so the hoe’s can follow the weeds. Similarly, spot sprayers will only spray where the camera picks up a weed.

sprayer
Image source: Bayer Crop Science

Magic sprayers and talking fields

Precision farming is definitely in an exciting place and chemical and machinery companies are embracing this. Last December, Bayer and Bosch announced the beginning of a three year research project to develop ‘Smart Spraying Technology’. The trial will trial a sprayer that may identify weeds and decide on the most appropriate chemical and rate to apply.

Weather station

Lemken is another company moving more and more towards improved agronomy practices. The company’s weather station took off this year.

It can measure rainfall; soil temperature at 5cm and 25cm; air temperature above the crop; and humidity in the crop and the environment around the crop. The weather station can also help to forecast disease pressure in crops.

The availability of this information on a farmer’s smartphone allows them to decide on the optimum spraying time in a field that may be miles from their farmyard.

Also Read: If fields could talk…they’d tell you the weather

Controlling weeds using electricity

Case IH is one of the latest companies to launch a new product in this category. It recently launched Xpower – a system for controlling weeds using electricity.

The approach replaces chemicals with electricity for weed control and pre-harvest desiccation of crops.

Case IH claims that the system is capable of “completely destroying the plant – right down to the roots”.

It works via direct contact; the effects are apparently visible within just a few hours. Application booms with working widths from 1.2m to 3m are available.