Friday, December 15, 2017

Let us spray

June 6, 2016 by  
Filed under Clodhopper

Larkstoke-Sprayer-landscape

Controversial as ever, Clodhopper wonders whether it is worth employing an agronomist – and, if so, how they should best earn their salary.

If you’ll pardon the pun, it is an arable issue that crops up time and again: should I pay direct for an independent agronomist or should I use the agronomist employed by the local firm?

Let’s assume that a 1,000 acre farm pays an independent agronomist £5 per acre to walk the fields. That is £5,000 a year. Depending on the agreement, field walking might talk place monthly or weekly. It may or may not include spray and fertiliser plans and help with farm assurance.

It is hard to compare different packages simply because they are all different. So let’s look at agrochemicals. Oil has slumped in price but chemical costs remain much the same. And employing an independent agronomist doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper chemicals.

When you ring a rival distributor for a quote, it is always price-only, rather than inclusive of field-walking, and the price is nearly always matched from your supplier. I was  shown a quote price alongside a walked price once – and the walked price was threefold what I should be paying.

As always, if you don’t question it, you pay the price.

Some say the days of the field-walking agronomist are numbered? After all, digital technology, aerial drones and diagnostic services can all free up more time for agronomists to help clients make decisions about current and future cropping.

Disease pressure

For me though, the field walking aspect of agronomy is vital. It leads to a better understanding of the land being farmed – and a better service. There is little point having a list of products to be used and spray programme in place if you haven’t seen disease pressure in the field first hand.

In some years, I have seen three spending plan options for the coming season and been asked what I expect to spend on chemicals at the start of March. It is a policy I care little for, simply because my farm rarely fall into one of those spending graphs.

The best agronomists are worth their weight in gold. But I am convinced that some are little more than salesmen. To justify their charges – whether by direct payment or a surcharge added to agrochemical invoices – they recommend spraying even in the most borderline of cases.

Farmers have been repeatedly told that T1 and T2 are important. Rightly so, perhaps. But nowadays we are advised to apply a T0 as well. And this spring, I heard that a high wheat disease pressure season a T1.75 may be needed. Where will it all end?

Not too many years ago, a chlorothalonil plus fenpropimorph plus epoxiconazole were the active ingredients for stopping disease infections in winter wheat before they started. I am sure we can all remember the trade names well – but they worked.

Active ingredients

Today, we still have these active ingredients but under new trade names with each manufacturer adding something special or unique to their own brand. Maybe it is due because they claim to have special yield enhancing capabilities. Or maybe it is just down to money.

It all makes it difficult to compare prices. You certainly can’t do it with trade names. Instead you have to compare active ingredients. It is a very time consuming process – especially when many ingredients differ slightly in their composition.

At the same time, the grower is on the bottom rung of the food ladder. Farmers are making very little profit at the moment. Deciding whether to a certain agrochemical offers good value for money should be made easier, rather than harder.

So question your agronomist closely on both price and performance. If you get a sensible, all well and good. If not, and you haven’t done so already, it might be worth enrolling on a FACTS or BASIS course and arming yourself with some inside knowledge.

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