Making better use of nitrogen

RAGT has embarked on several new trial projects this season to help growers of the company’s varieties get the best from their crops.

The trials will be on show to visitors in early summer when RAGT will host a series of open days at the demonstration field at its UK headquarters near Ickleton, Cambridgeshire. *

In the next few newsletters we’ll be highlighting some of this innovative work. Tom Dummett, RAGT’s cereal and OSR product manager, kicks off with a look at a topic that has become particularly pertinent in recent months.

The war in Ukraine has thrown into focus the fragility of agricultural supply chains and their exposure to the extreme volatility that political and economic events can cause.

Nitrogen fertiliser is an obvious example. Prices were already at historic highs before the conflict, due to rising gas prices and export restrictions. However, over the past few weeks, prices have soared to around £1000/t. This reflects Russia’s position as a key exporter of nitrogen fertilisers and gas, a vital feedstock, and the importance of Ukraine’s ammonium exports.

There has never been a more appropriate time to examine ways of making better use of nitrogen. We embarked on a major project last autumn looking at reducing the carbon footprint of wheat production to help meet changing support payment criteria and, longer term, assess principles that could help farming meet its zero requirements.

Given that a key part of the work involves improving nitrogen fertiliser efficiency and uptake, it has taken on a new importance in light of recent events, potentially reducing growers’ exposure to this volatile market.

Catch crops

One area of the project is a multi-year trial examining the effect of different catch crops on a range of winter wheats to see if certain species are better suited to different varieties in terms of reducing pests and diseases (eg nematodes, take-all), as well as enhancing crop performance through improved soil heath.

As part of this work, catch crops will be left as long as possible after the wheat has been drilled to capture as much nitrogen from the soil before winter sets in. They will either die naturally or be sprayed off ready to release nitrogen in the spring as their remains break down. It will be fascinating to see what this might mean in terms of crop performance and potential nitrogen savings.

Nitrogen capture

The second part of the project involves intercropping stands of RGT Skyfall and RGT Illustrious with nitrogen-fixing cover crop species to see if the technique might encourage more effective nitrogen uptake by the wheats, perhaps replacing a late nitrogen fertiliser application and improving protein production efficiency.

Several species of clover have been drilled at right angles into the wheat crops, overlaid with two nitrogen fertiliser regimes.

It is hoped that the clover will then continue as a permanent crop, into which we can stitch different cereals including second wheats, spring barley and oats to see what additional nitrogen saving benefits we will be able to achieve across the rotation.

* Our series of open days take pace during June. Many merchants, distributors and agronomy companies across the country are booking slots for their customers – why not give them a call to book a space? - Call us on 01799 533700 to find out more.

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