Comparison of winter wheat profitability using 3-pass, 5-pass and 7-pass production systems
About this project
Minimum Pass Husbandry is a technique which has the objective of reducing the number of passes made through the cereal crop without reducing the crop's profitability.
In this three year project this objective was tested in the winter wheat crop at six locations in the UK. To test the concept six trials compared the performance of winter wheat under three management regimes which differed in the number of passes made through the crop with nitrogen and agrochemicals. 3, 5 and 7 pass management systems were applied to two varieties, Hunter and Brigadier, at four different seedrates and two different sowing dates.
The yield results from the project illustrated that adopting fewer passes through the wheat crop reduced the yield of the crop. Averaged over all treatments and sites the yield penalty for adopting 3 pass management compared to a more conventional 7 pass system was recorded as 0.52 t/ha. Despite the lower yield of the minimum pass approach, there were savings in input costs as the number of passes was reduced. If grain was priced at £75/tonne and application cost applied at £5/ha per pass, it was shown that the 3 pass technique was as profitable or more profitable on three out of four occasions, using the yield data from the project (actual figure 76%). Since a yield penalty was suffered as a result of adopting fewer passes through the crop, it is acknowledged that the benefits of minimum pass husbandry are most likely to occur at low grain prices where application costs are a serious consideration. This is usually where land blocks are being farmed at some distance from the main farming enterprise.
The project illustrated that the success of adopting fewer passes through the crop was influenced by the variety's resistance to disease but that this characteristic was most manifest when the crop was later sown. As the concept depends on a single fungicide and nitrogen application there was also evidence to suggest that the technique was most applicable in drier regions of the country where expected responses to fungicides were lower. However, the introduction of the longer lasting Strobilurins should help strengthen the one spray strategy in the future.
In order to fully utilise the nitrogen from a single application in the minimal pass technique there was evidence to indicate that earlier timings should be adopted to avoid drought uptake restriction. In addition, there was also some grounds to suggest the technique may be better suited to more fertile 1st wheat situations or generally more fertile soils.
The maximum yield penalty associated with the 3 pass technique over the three years occurred when a massive grain aphid infestation created a 2 - 3 t/ha yield advantage for the 7 pass control treatment which incorporated an aphidicide.
The data generated over the three years of the project should give growers greater confidence in the selection of winter wheat crops suitable for minimum pass husbandry approaches. The technique, however, remains most suitable for scattered farming systems where growers carry out the husbandry using one set of farm machinery. In addition, the technique is particularly pertinent when grain prices are low - £80/tonne or below - as they are currently.
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