For the fifth year running, students from six UK colleges and universities are rising to the challenge of growing the best plot of winter wheat in the 2014 Cereals Challenge.
Located at Chrishall Grange farm in Cambridge, the site of the 2014 Cereals event, six plots of Santiago winter wheat have been officially handed over to the student teams to manage through to the final judging during the 2014 Cereals Event.
Successful teams from Harper Adams University, Newcastle University, The Royal Agricultural University, Nottingham University, Riseholme College and Easton & Otley College qualified in a competitive process to win a place in this year’s Challenge. The winning team will receive a trophy and a prize of £1,000 to share, the winning college is also awarded £500.
The student teams will be responsible for the plots from mid-February until the day before the Cereals event in June, when they will be judged. All of the teams have visited the site and have been given the necessary background information on their plots to manage them going forward.
Judged by Keith Norman, Technical Director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, Technical Manager of Hutchinsons, and Cereals host farmer Robert Law, the competition will look at each team’s agronomic recommendations (based on appropriateness and timeliness of recommendations), input cost management, estimated crop yield and the quality, as well as the marketing of the crop.
“An important part of this process is for us to understand the justifications for each decision made as from this we can see if the challenges of the season and crop have been truly understood and responded to – as in real time agronomy, “ says Andrew Mortimer, of Velcourt, who will be looking after the plots on a day-day basis.
“However, the marketing of the crop is not real-time but theoretical as the plots are not taken to harvest, but the students are given the chance to sell in two blocks with prices based on November 2014 LIFFE figures.”
Last year’s tightly contested challenge saw winners Newcastle University just one point ahead of Harper Adams. “Last year’s team focussed on responding to the season by considering every aspect of the crop’s requirements; managing lodging, disease and nutrition to keep the crop healthy, as well as making the best marketing decisions, says Dick Neale of Hutchinsons.
“However this year we have a very different scenario altogether; we have a wheat crop that is not as lush as many of the earlier drilled crops around so this will need consideration, also the crop is hungry, so the first task of the challenge will be to think about early nitrogen recommendations.”
Paul Hobson of Hutchinsons and Nick Shorter of Velcourt who launched the Cereals Challenge to the students underlined the success of the Challenge in offering an insight into careers in agronomy or farm management, and also as an opportunity to meet youngsters looking for a career with either company.
Since the Challenge was launched Hutchinsons has taken on two of the students into their successful Agronomy Foundation Training Programme whilst Velcourt has had an equal success rate with two of its trainee farm managers having been part of previous teams and its current Velcourt scholar featuring in this year’s competition.