How Strategic Cereal Farms put IPM to work

Friday, 15 December 2023

Integrated pest management (IPM) in arable farming is evolving at a fast pace. Find out how our Strategic Cereal Farms follow an evidence-based approach to put IPM to work.

In this blog, Joe Martlew, AHDB Senior Knowledge Transfer Manager, provides a flavour of the fascinating programme of work across the network that aims to help farmers get to grips with IPM.

During November 2023, four Tuesday webinars highlighted the latest Strategic Cereal Farm results. This blog is based on the second of these webinars (which is available on YouTube).

Strategic Cereal Farm East (Suffolk)

Will Smith (NIAB) and Brian Barker (the first Strategic Cereal Farm East host) provided a comprehensive review of a six-year trial designed to help reduce fungicide inputs.

Brian highlighted how the context for the work had shifted over the duration of the on-farm trials. Since the trials started (in 2017), the economic and policy landscape had changed. Adapting to these external factors altered the amount of risk the business was willing to take.

To help quantify risk, Will explained how they used a simple matrix tool that accounts for the basic, but significant, factors that influence risk – such as drilling date, varietal resistance and location. Importantly, the approach also accounted for risk attitudes.

The tool generates a risk score that can be mapped to clearly defined risk-level categories, which can inform the appropriate amount to spend on the fungicide programme. Such tools don’t take decision-making out of your hands, but it is certainly better than flying blind.

Reassuringly, experimental work at the Strategic Cereal Farm found that the guidance from the tool aligned with that suggested by a more intensive data collection and analysis process.

In the final year, the team used dose-response curves, produced as part of AHDB’s long-term fungicide performance project. Such curves provide an independent source of evidence on the potential disease reduction or yield uplift associated with increased fungicide doses.

The team used the multiple sources of evidence to determine the maximum permissible fungicide spend for each variety grown in the trials. Ultimately, it allowed them to identify the level of fungicide investment most likely to produce a consistent return.

Top tips

  • Start with solid IPM principles, based on varietal resistance and drilling date, and use tools to assess disease risk
  • Get familiar with what various disease levels look in your crops
  • Compare observations with the AHDB Recommended Lists (RL) disease ratings – for example, what does ‘high’ disease really look like on a leaf in your crops?
  • Consider setting up a ‘how-low-can-you-go’ area in your fields to minimise the risk associated with ‘getting it wrong’
  • Use all observations to learn about in-field risks and to ‘calibrate’ your crops – it will help you make more informed risk-based decisions

Risk-based decisions

Ben Burrows (Crop Management Partners) provided an insight into how he works closely together and shares decision-making with David Miller (Strategic Cereal Farm South host).

Ben, who is David’s agronomist, provided examples of how the farm team approaches risk management. He believes the keys to success are having open discussions to identify the acceptable level of risk and working with a team prepared to take risks and try something new.

They have used this collaborative approach to tackle numerous challenges on the farm, including managing Barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) risk, lowering input levels for oilseed rape and experimenting with a zero-fungicide approach on cereals.

The team believes it is essential to enjoy exploring and learning from successes (as well as the mistakes). Ben even said that some elements had been fun, including experiments where they learnt more about monitoring beneficial insects on the farm.

The next phase of IPM

New IPM experiments, which are already in the ground, were also outlined during the webinar.

Strategic Cereal Farm East (Norfolk)

David Jones, our new host for Strategic Cereal Farm East, outlined the main areas of investigation over the next six years.

A collaborative approach is at the heart of all activities, which includes input from NIAB, ADAS, Harper Adams University and Garford Machinery.

The work will include the cultural management of BYDV, which includes the use of established and emerging decision-support tools. The on-farm trials will also investigate the value of BYDV-resistant varieties.

Strategic Cereal Farm North

Another new project aims to establish how disease susceptibility is impacted by various nitrogen inputs. In particular, the work will focus on the use of granular nitrogen, with or without foliar nitrogen application.

The activity, which was introduced by Charlottle White (ADAS), will be carried out at Strategic Cereal Farm North with host farmer David Blacker and will run for several seasons.

Various aspects will be measured to assess the impact of the treatments on soil health, crop health, crop performance and carbon footprints.

Key takeaways

  • An open agronomist/farmer relationship is key to assess crop risks and implement appropriate IPM approaches
  • Explore the numerous IPM tools available to find the ones that work for your business
  • Experiment with IPM approaches to get a better handle on crop performance and economics (even if only in a limited area of the farm)

Further information

Visit the Strategic Cereal Farm home page

A Defra view on IPM

At the 2023 Agronomy Conference, Holly Alpren, Defra’s Pesticides Scientist, provided a view on IPM.

Watch the conference video recording for:

  • A review of agronomic trends that impact IPM
  • Long-running crop pest and disease survey information
  • Insight into the Genetic Improvement Networks (GINs)
  • The Farming Innovation Programme 
  • Use of networks to improve IPM adoption
  • Measuring IPM impact

Watch Holly's IPM presentation at the Agronomy Conference