Left – right: Matt Cobbald, George Atkey, David Hutchinson, Tom Kirby, Dan Hawes, Danny Richardson.

Harper Adams University have won the 2019 Cereals Challenge by growing the best virtual crop of spring barley to manage problematic black-grass. Newcastle University took second place and also won the separate Environmental Challenge.

The winning team from Harper Adams University made up of Dan Hawes, George Atkey, Danny Richardson and Tom Kirby were presented with the prestigious Cereals Challenge trophy and £1000 prize money to share, plus an additional £500 for the College, by David Hutchinson, Hutchinsons chairman and Matt Cobbald of Velcourt, at an awards ceremony on the first day of the Cereals Event.

The teams from Writtle University College, Newcastle University, Royal Agricultural University, Riseholme College, and Harper Adams University have had to manage their virtual plots as realistically as possible, taking full responsibility for all aspects of crop management, from cultivation choice to fungicide strategy through the season, as though it were a real crop, explains judge Dick Neale of Hutchinsons.

“Successfully managing the complex technical and environmental challenges of the task required the teams to use the raft of information available to develop a clear, integrated crop management plan.”

As with real-life situations, he said there was no definitive answer, so the key was for students to clearly explain their rationale behind any decisions made.

“The team from Harper came through as they thought about the consequences of their approach and justified their inputs well. They also considered alternative approaches to weed control such as hoeing weeds which they were able to do as they had sown the crop in wider rows.”

“I genuinely can’t believe we won the Cereals Challenge. It’s been an excellent way to gain practical experience and make many new contacts within the industry,” says Dan Hawes, HAU team captain.

“For each monthly task, we discussed it as a team first then divided specific aspects among individual team members. It was a really good all-round team performance, that will benefit everyone who took part; others are going into the fresh produce sector, agronomy and research trials. ”

Environmental Challenge

This year saw an additional award and prize money of £400 plus £100 for their College or University, for the team that demonstrated the strongest awareness of environmental protection and integrated pest management (IPM) principles.

Won by Newcastle University, in a team made up of Louise Penn, Tom Astill, Jack Harley and Christian Churchill, judges Matt Ward of Farmacy and Phil Jarvis of the Game and Wildlife Conservancy Trust, were impressed with the clarity of the advice, provided by the team ‘not just what to do and where, but why.’

“They also went the extra mile suggesting community engagement, being members of LEAF and signposting to a biobed grant,” says Mr Ward.

Louise Penn, team captain of Newcastle puts down the win to keeping the environment at the forefront of the challenge. “Throughout the challenge we have always kept the environment in mind, whether that’s through selecting different modes of action, using urease inhibitors to reduce ammonia emissions, or integrating cultural controls and stewardship options.”

“With the Basic Payment Scheme changing into the new Environmental Land Management system in the future, for our generation, having a good understanding of the environment will definitely be the way forward for farming.”