From tighter environmental regulations to weather extremes and changing disease threats, there are a host of commercial and technical challenges facing the arable sector that demand a new approach to crop agronomy.
This was one of the key messages to farmers attending a recent technical meeting organised by the new Farmacy Norfolk Agronomy team at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, where the importance of cultural, non-chemical approaches alongside established agronomy principles was clearly highlighted.
“We are still looking at a future of new active ingredients although the pipeline will slow down due to increasing regulatory and environmental pressures,” said Farmacy area business manager and meeting chairman John Purslow, who leads the Farmacy Norfolk team.
“Alternative crop production solutions” are taking an increasingly important role in meeting the technical and commercial challenges of profitable crop management, he said.
“This covers a multitude of different areas, from bio-pesticides and bio-stimulants to soil health, crop nutrition and the use of crop genetics to tackle new and existing threats.”
“Increasing resistance in pests, weeds and diseases and the need for an integrated approach to managing these for the long term is becoming crucial to the sustainability of our combinable cropping rotations.”
To illustrate what integrated solutions looked like in practice on farms, attendees at the meeting heard how soil health could be improved with cover cropping from NIABTAG’s head of farming systems, Dr Elizabeth Stockdale.
Mr Purslow said the increasing complexity of agronomic decision making made it vital for agronomists to have easy access to a wide range of technical expertise and agronomists who worked on their own could find accessing the required level of information increasingly time consuming and challenging in future.
“By being part of a leading national agronomy company, Farmacy Norfolk are better placed to access this level of support, whilst still delivering the best and most up-to-date independent advice to farming clients in this volatile environment.”
As well as remaining at the forefront of technical changes, attendees also heard how the successful agronomist of the future had to be fully capable of utilising and analysing the wealth of field and crop data being collected on farms to deliver fully integrated advice.
Knowing what to do with the sheer volume of data available across a wide variety of systems – from machinery telematics to soil sampling – can seem daunting, but with the right system, it can be easily brought together to increase the precision and efficiency of everyday decision-making.
Farmacy services manager Matt Ward explained that the Omnia precision agronomy system provided the ideal platform for doing just this by collating and analysing multiple “layers” of data from a variety of sources to formulate bespoke agronomy at individual field or sub-field level.
All agronomists stressed that regular field walking and appropriate recommendations remained core to the everyday role, as did the focus on delivering independent advice to improve the profitability of clients’ businesses.
“Agronomists have to be looking at a wider number of issues now, so the depth of technical research and expertise that exists within Farmacy to support people in the field is invaluable,” added Farmacy Norfolk agronomist Peter Riley.