Experts share winning strategies for the black-grass battle 
(Original article by Natalie Reed at Whisper)

 Integrated management is the best solution to tackling the increasing threat from black-grass: the overwhelming conclusion from industry experts gathered at a Bayer CropScience Black-Grass Task Force conference in Peterborough.

Taking delegates from the theoretical to the practical, the experts shared their knowledge and experience of how best to control this difficult grass-weed.

Craig Knight, a PhD student from the University of Warwick, is in year three of a four-year study exploring evolutionary dynamics of black-grass herbicide resistance. He explained his preliminary findings.

“In 2011, resistance to an ALS inhibitor affected 43% of populations tested,” said Mr Knight.  “Resistance to an ACCase inhibitor affected 100% of tested populations. In both cases enhanced metabolic resistance (EMR) is the primary mechanism. Retesting populations annually since 2011 has shown that resistance levels haven’t changed much.

“Unlike target site resistance (TSR), which is specific to a particular mode of action, cultural control provides the best method of controlling EMR black-grass.”

The point was echoed by Andrew Cotton who drew on his 40 years of field experience to demonstrate the effectiveness of stacked cultural control.

“A particularly heavy population at a farm in Buckingham demanded a complete overhaul of the rotation.

“Needing something radical, we started with three spring crops - barley, oats and Canadian red wheat, back-to-back. All naturally competitive against black-grass, when preceded by multiple stale seedbeds we gradually gained the upper hand.

“By 2013 we were able to return to winter crops: oilseed rape in 2013 and wheat this year.

“Just be careful with spring cropping to consider what chemistry is available,” Mr Cotton warned, “and of course, how it’s applied.”

That was a sentiment that formed the thrust of David Felce’s presentation.

“Up to fifty per cent of a herbicide’s control is down to accurate timing and application technique.

“But with sprayer operators under pressure to cover more acres within short weather windows increasing efficiency is a major challenge.

“It’s important to choose where those efficiencies are made carefully as some actions that improve work rates can drastically reduce application efficacy.

 “If you don’t hit the target you won’t get the control,” says Mr Felce.
“Take forward speed. It has least impact on increasing output but the biggest effect on spray quality. Double the speed and turbulence increases four fold.”

“Equally, reducing water volumes, particularly at pre-emergence, can jeopardise coverage.”

Instead, growers should focus on logistics, he said. “How can you make your filling stations more efficient, for example?”

Finally, Keith Norman - technical director at Velcourt - tried to give delegates a glimpse of the future, with a summary of the company’s current research.

“Companion cropping, catch cropping and bio-herbicides are all producing promising results,” he noted.

“Avenacin is a chemical produced by oats, which appears to have allelopathic qualities. When sown alongside a wheat crop, oats consistently reduce the number of black-grass heads. We suspect the avenacin is having a suppressive effect.”

Oats are also the subject of a joint study between Agrovista and Bayer CropScience, which sees black-oats sown in autumn to crowd-out early-germinating black-grass, and then a spring crop sown in the sprayed-off residue - with the added advantage that reduced soil disturbance presents fewer opportunities for spring-germinating weeds.



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Velcourt will be exhibiting at Cereals 2015, showcasing its tried and tested farm management systems and a series of new developments in crop production techniques and agronomy. The stand will be hosted by a combination of Velcourt’s senior management team, regional agronomist, its in-house technical team and a selection of its farm managers.

The Crown Estate and Velcourt form Northumberland farming venture

The Crown Estate has partnered with Velcourt, Europe’s leading farm business manager, to create an innovative new venture to manage the 4,500 acre Ellington Estate in Northumberland.

ATE 05
24 July 2014 

Dr Clarke of Agri-Tech East discusses food security at British Business House

Global wheat consumption exceeded production in six out of the last eight years*. Although increasing yield to meet demand is important, improving resilience under adverse growing conditions is also vital.  Dr Belinda Clarke, director of Agri-Tech East, will discuss how innovation emerging from the East of England is providing farmers with new tools to boost production in a panel discussion chaired by James Townshend, Business Ambassador for Agriculture, ahead of the Commonwealth Games, 24th July 2014.

Agri-Tech East brings together farmers and growers with scientists, breeders and technologists.  Dr Clarke explains that the region’s tradition of agricultural innovation is being reinvigorated with the emergence of new technologies in areas as varied as plant breeding, DNA sequencing, information management and advanced engineering.

Dr Clarke explains: “Traditional wheat breeding has focused on improving yield by selecting for desirable characteristics, but this can be at the expense of other attributes such as tolerance to drought or disease.  This tends to create varieties that perform best when conditions are ideal and are often dependent on high inputs of fertiliser and pest control so a new approach is required.
“The East of England has considerable knowledge of plant breeding with one of the largest global collections of wheat landraces.  These are local varieties of domesticated wheat that are adapted to the natural and cultural environment and are stable under adverse conditions.

“These ancient varieties could provide alternative sources of yield, quality, drought tolerance or pest and disease resistance traits for current plant breeding programmes.  This will help combat climate change, improve food security and better utilise current farming inputs.”
The international landrace collection was built up in the 1920s by University of Cambridge Lecturer Arthur Ernest Watkins.  He encouraged staff at British consulates worldwide to collect over 1200 samples of wheat. The Germplasm Resources Unit is now housed at the John Innes Centre (JIC) on the Norwich Research Park alongside one of the most powerful genetic sequencing engines at The Genome Analysis Centre.

Other germplasm resources are available at Rothamsted Research; it has collated 150 different types (lines) of ancient wheat called Triticum monococcum to identify lines that have natural resistance to pests. Some of the best ancient wheat lines are now being crossed with modern wheat varieties using a novel breeding technique.

Dr Clarke continues “Now with new techniques, such as DNA marker assisted selection and others, we have more precise tools to help breeders to understand variation. This will allow us to re-evaluate older varieties and create crops that are naturally more resilient in the field.”

Chairing the Food Security session is James Townshend, Business Ambassador for Agriculture, CEO of Velcourt Farm Management and a strong advocate of creating demonstrations of new technology so that farmers can see the innovations that may significantly improve wheat yields.

Velcourt’s own R&D team has been working with JIC to investigate the use of markers to improve yield.  Differences in a single “rung” of the DNA helix can impact the grain width, length and the number of spikelets.

Dr Cristobal Uauy, wheat geneticist JIC and National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) explains:  “Although the differences are barely perceptible, over an entire field these changes can increase yield by roughly 5%, the equivalent of 700 loaves of bread per hectare.”

Farms in the region are also being used as a test bed for new technologies such as remote sensing and imaging which can support precision agriculture.  Spectral imaging measures the health of the crop and also identifies areas for selective pest control, which is particularly beneficial where there is resistance to certain herbicides.

Dr Clarke says that the valuable data, from field trials collected with drone imaging and from yield data emerging from smart combine harvesters, are among the inputs that are driving an information revolution.  Recent research by law firm Taylor Vinters estimates the agricultural market for unmanned systems will be worth $30bn over the next decade with applications in precision farming, monitoring and land use inspection.

“Agricultural management is data rich and automating the collection and management of data will greatly assist on-farm decision-making, “ says Dr Clarke. “We are seeing companies from the Cambridge cluster currently working in other industry sectors, looking with interest at agri-tech and seeing potential for applying their technology to collating, visualising and interpreting this complex data. We anticipate that the market for agri-informatics will be a major growth area.”

Agri-tech has been identified as one of the ways in which the world can increase food production sustainably.  Dr Clarke believes that the east of England is in a prime position to deliver it.

British Business House is an event coordinated by UKTI to engage with international business leaders attending the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
*Research published by National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim)

Contacts for media:  Victoria Ellis/Rachel Holdsworth, Holdsworth Associates, PR Consultants to Agri-Tech East. E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. T: 01954 202789.

About Agri-Tech East –

Agri-Tech East is a new business-focused cluster organisation for the East of England. It is home to the business, technology and research power-houses of Cambridge and Norwich as well as some highly innovative growers and producers who manage much of the UK's most productive and profitable agricultural land.

By creating a global innovation hub, it aims to improve the international competitiveness of plant and crop-based agriculture and catalyse economic growth.

Contact: Dr Belinda Clarke, director Agri-Tech East  E: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Velcourt’s annual Farm Competition

Every year each farm manager and the businesses they are involved in running take part in the Velcourt farm competition. 

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Category: News 2018

The John Innes Foundation supports scientific research, education,  training  and  public engagement. As part of the portfolio of investments, JIF provides a Bursary to one undergraduate per year to pay for their tuition fees in full. The candidate must be destined for a career in Crop Production / Farm Management and meet the criteria below:-

  • Not from a farming background and of UK origin.
  • From a financially disadvantaged family background. 

The candidate will be mentored periodically throughout their studies by Velcourt’s Technical Director and given the opportunity to work for Velcourt during vacations as well as be considered for the Velcourt management training scheme


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