The Mains of Loirston Winter Wheat Challenge, organised by Scotland’s Rural College is entering a time of peak activity with 20 student teams battling to grow the most profitable crop of winter wheat.
The annual competition is sponsored by the Mains of Loirston Trust which was established in 2007 by NE farmer, the late Alexander W Allan. He was committed to advancing education in the practice and science of agriculture in Scotland. The Challenge is designed to encourage the next generation of farmers and agronomists by giving them their own plots of winter wheat to manage. The teams are entered from four SRUC Campuses, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Barony and Oatridge.
Each team makes its own decisions about its “crops” and what inputs to use, from variety and seed rate to fertiliser and pest protection. Each crop and treatment is replicated on three sites, in Aberdeenshire, Fife and Midlothian. They are managed by the SRUC team which normally looks after official crop trials.
One of those taking part this year is Craig Mackenzie from Dunballoch, Beauly. He is in the 4th year of his Honours degree in Agriculture at the SRUC Craibstone (Aberdeen). He admits that in his first “Challenge” year when he was with some older students he did not really understand what was gong on. But in the last two years, as a team leader, he is very much more engaged and enjoying it.
Together with team members Malcolm MacDonald from Kinkell, Orcadian Ross Nicolson and Euan Dunbar from Tayside he is hoping to improve on last years fourth place.
“It’s a great opportunity to manage a crop and make decisions all the way through,” says Craig. “You make mistakes, but you learn from them and this way the mistakes are not too expensive - like they might be at home! It is also a great way of putting what we learn in lectures into practice.”
“This year we have changed variety and growing KWS Kielder. Last season it was the results on the Aberdeen trial that let us down, the other two locations had done well. I think we got our growth regulator applications wrong, let’s see if we can do better this time.”
According to Winter Wheat Challenge co-ordinator and lecturer Scott Murray the “crops” are now showing interesting differences as a result of the different approaches taken by the teams from the various SRUC campuses. Decisions have been made based on regular site visits and real-time information, such as weather conditions and disease progress.
“The most popular variety being grown again this year is Viscount,” reports Scott. “However, last year’s winner successfully grew Cordiale and achieved milling quality so gained a premium price in the market. This year, there is only one team growing Cordiale and one, Solstice, so will the risk of growing a milling variety pay off again this year?”
The mild autumn and winter has meant that crops have established well. Those teams using seed rates around 200 kg/ha have achieved suitable target plant populations and are well on course for a good yield. Those who were more cautious and went for higher seed rates will soon be considering their Nitrogen programmes and use of plant growth regulators so that their crops do not get too thick.
All this will need to be fitted around the students’ usual workload of assessments, exams and dissertation work – it’s going to be a busy spring!
For more information about individual local entries contact:
For Aberdeen;Alex Hilton (firstname.lastname@example.org
For Edinburgh;Scott Murray (email@example.com)
For Barony;Andrew Marshall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For Oatridge;Kim Gilbert (email@example.com)