A ‘Beast’ of a challenge

Published Thursday, 19th July 2018 in Winter Wheat Challenge news

five people in a field of wheat
(l-r) Alistair McBain (Agrovista), Mellanie Robson (MSc Agricultural Professional Practice), Katy Downie (Agrii), Hamish Whyte (BSc Agriculture) and Robert Mitchell (BSc Agriculture)

This year’s winter wheat competition at Scotland’s Rural College is proving a “Beast” of a challenge for students.

Just as it has posed problems for the country’s farmers, the prolonged dry spell in addition to the Beast from the East earlier in the year has given students plenty to think about as the 2018 Winter Wheat Challenge heats up. 

Sponsored by the Mains of Loirston Trust, this year’s competition is allowing 20 teams consisting of 71 SRUC students the opportunity to gain practical experience in agronomy. 

Teams make management decisions on their own plots and must make their own decisions on variety, seed rate, fertiliser and crop protection. The winners are those who make the best return after paying for their variable costs. 

The development of each plot has been heavily influenced by this year’s extreme weather conditions.  

At the Aberdeenshire trial site, students recently met with agronomists and SRUC alumni Alistair McBain from Agrovista – a former Winter Wheat Challenge winner – and Katy Downie from Agrii.

Alex Hilton, SRUC lecturer in crop production, said: “This has been a very challenging year for the teams and it is very difficult to predict who will win. The winter was harsh on the developing crop with both the Beast and its little brother having an impact on establishment.  

“Some of the teams have used a low seed rate, resulting in patchy crops. The lack of moisture this summer has meant that nitrogen granules have been lying on the surface, rather than breaking down and feeding the crop, resulting in deficiencies. A lack of nitrogen means that lower yields are more likely. However, there is little sign of disease so far in the crops.”

The winners of this year’s Winter Wheat Challenge will be announced at AgriScot, Ingliston, on 21 November. 

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