Tillage focus: Trial leaves no room for error

Drummonds first set up its agricultural division here in Ireland in 1972. In one way it’s like any other agri-merchant; the company sells feed, chemicals, fertiliser and has a host of technical sales representatives to do this. However, Drummonds is very different in another.

For the past eight years the company has had its own trial site – backing up agronomy advice with research data and testing varieties that it will eventually sell to its customers.

AgriLand visited Drummonds’ trial site in Termonfeckin, Co. Louth, when the company held its recent open day.

Customers came to see the research going on at the site and potential varieties that they will plant in the coming seasons; a large emphasis was put on crop nutrition and how it can increase yield.

Oilseed rape varieties in Termonfeckin

Brian Reilly is the trial site manager with Drummonds. As well as managing this task, Brian is an agronomist based at the Drogheda branch of the company. He explained why trial work is so important.

“Our trial site provides us with local-based knowledge. Varieties and fungicide treatments perform differently in the north-east than in the south of the country due to different disease pressures.

“Our objective is to equip our agronomists with the most up-to-date results and to back up recommendations that are passed onto our tillage growers,” he added.

On display at the open day were plots of winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley and oilseed rape.

Each year, Drummonds brings forward its own varieties for trial at its site and these varieties are also in recommended list trials with the Department of Agriculture.

“The most important thing when growing wheat now is the disease characteristics. We must know the positives and negatives of varieties and where and when to sow them,” Brian stated when beginning his walk through the winter wheat plots.

Drummonds’ Wesley Martin explained that there are now four years of data available from the site and that the information is slowly building up.

“We can see where Lumos was at the head of the pack last year; the data we’re getting here is all good information to bring to you on the farm.

We can stand behind our information confidently when advising on varieties and yields.

“We’ve had a lot of different years thrown at us. We had high-septoria years and this year is an interesting one because septoria is at the bottom of the pile and rust is strong.”

Foliar nutrition

Drummonds’ agronomists put a huge emphasis on nutrition. While fungicides protect the plant against disease, nutrition will feed the yield. Trialing these products ensures a return from the spend when farmers apply the products to crops.

Brian stated: “All nutritional products need to show at least two years positive results before being recommended on farm. By doing this, we are constantly trying to push yield barriers.

However, extra investment must result in an improved margin for the farmer.

Brian pointed out the benefits of applying foliar nutrients in a dry year like this and added that the treatments of magnesium (Mg) and phosphorus (P) are standing out among the trial plots.

Mg application was trialed at flag leaf timing and at the head spray on wheat.

Magnesium must go on the flag leaf. It’s hard to get Magnesium into a plant in a dry year. Any foliar nutrient in a dry year always pays.

“We compared 3L/ha of Final K and 6L/ha of Final K on winter wheat and it made a massive difference; the 6L treatment stands out from the rest.

“When the plant gets dry, it needs potash because it’s regulating water through the plant,” he added.

Brian pointed out that aside from helping with brackling in cereals, potash is a key nutrient for water regulation in crops, including: cereals; potatoes; and apple trees.

Thinking outside the box

While different fungicide programmes are tested in the Drummonds’ trials, there is also a focus on improving spray performance and looking at products – apart from fungicides – that can improve production.

One of these products – Spray Plus – is a water conditioner that corrects the pH of the water used to spray.

One trial showed the difference between plots sprayed with the same insecticide and fungicide programmes. However, water conditioner was applied in one treatment and not in the other. While disease pressure was low this season, a difference could be seen between plots.

Many people are spraying at a pH of 6.5-7.0; we’re trying to get that back to 5.5-6.0 for everything to work correctly and to neutralise the bicarbonates and correct the pH.

“At the moment, it looks better than the same treatment without the conditioner; the combine will tell all,” Brian added.

Taking the ‘Highway’ to spring barley yields

In the spring barley plots, Drummonds’ Dermot Meehan was on hand to introduce some of the newest varieties.

Highway is an up-and-coming variety. The variety – which has Quench in its parentage – has hit a relative yield of 106 in department trials and Drummonds will be bringing it to the fields if it keeps up this performance.

KWS Cantton is another new variety on Drummonds’ radar; it will be the new variety coming forward, while Gangway remains a popular choice in the north-east.

Looking ahead

“Looking ahead, our aim is to get more from our soil,” Brian explained.

Drummonds plans to do this by trialing different drilling methods. These are: direct; min-till; and plough-based systems. Cover crops are also being examined.

The aim of these experiments is to build up soil biology, health and organic matter.