Soil, fungicides and agronomy – Beatrice Guthrie’s Groundswell report

Beatrice Guthrie

Enthused by her recent trip to Groundswell 2021, Beatrice Guthrie explains why she was grateful to receive a Future Farmers of Yorkshire bursary to attend.

I arrived at Groundswell at 9 o’clock on the Wednesday morning.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and the grounds were buzzing with people.

With a rumbling stomach, my first point of call was the food stands – there was a great selection to choose between, from curries to wagyu burgers to wood fired pizzas.

New insights

Out of the seven talks I listened to over the two-day event, my first was the panel which discussed whether fungicides have a place in regenerative agriculture.

All the speakers agreed that the usual timings of applications that farmers have been using for years, (T0, T1, T2…) are likely going to change.

The key agronomic activities that farmers will have to adopt to reduce fungicide inputs include selecting varieties for high disease resistance and implementing longer crop rotation to reduce disease inoculum.

More farmers will be likely to adopt new technologies like weather stations with disease modelling to help plan fungicide timings and rates.

Their research highlighted that the use of multiple species intercropping (e.g. beans with oats) can reduce disease pressure on various trial plots.

They concluded that fungicides should be used as a last resort rather than a pre-planned routine.

This may be tricky as most farmers use fungicides at specific timings to prevent disease from travelling up the crop.

Using fungicides as a last resort would mean that they will have to solely use eradicant fungicides which are less effective and are limited to a small number of products.

Agronomy’s future

Another very interesting talk was discussing the future of agronomy.

It’s evident that agronomy is going to change due to the termination of the BPS and the introduction of the new ELM scheme.

They said that the use of technology and AI will play a big part in an agronomist’s job.

Agronomists may also have to advise farmers to achieve higher profit margins instead of higher yield.

This will mean that agronomists will need to access farms’ financial accounts (such as labour and machinery costs) on top of their traditional agronomic methods.

However, this higher workload could mean that the farmer may need more than one agronomist which will specialise in each individual aspect of the role.

Maybe the farmer will have to take on the agronomy themselves and employ a consultant for financial and environmental scheme advice.

It was a very thought-provoking talk and it will be exciting to see what will happen.

Lessons on soil 

My favourite talk was given by David Purdy and Philip Wright which was about how soil structure is affected and developed through plants and biology working together.

They then went on to say that high intensity cultivation (e.g. ploughing) has been shown to reduce the biology and worm numbers in the soil over time.

Having a higher worm number has shown to increase infiltration rates and improve soil structure which will benefit the farmer.

Machinery weight and tyre pressure has a huge impact on soil structure and they recommended farmers to try and adopt controlled traffic farming (CTF) and to reduce tyre pressures to help to alleviate soil compaction and improve drainage.

I thoroughly enjoyed Groundswell and would like to thank Future Farmers and the Yorkshire Agricultural Society for the bursary opportunity; it’s an amazing event providing an insight into what agriculture will look like in the future.

Bring on Groundswell 2022!

Read: Help on my regenerative journey – James Johnson’s notes from Groundswell

More: How a FFY bursary helped Luke Upton take a big step in his dairy career

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