Crop Husbandry Management in a Time of Economic Crisis

The financial crisis has left its mark on the 2009 sowing campaign. Financing for the crop husbandry industry has dried up significantly. This first of all means that the amount of plant-protecting agents and mineral fertilizers in use has been reduced, and that purchase volumes of high-yield seeds are markedly down. What will be the pay-off of such economic programs in autumn?

By Willi Drews, Doctor of Agronomy

The results of the 2008 harvest revealed an oversupply of feed-grain and, as a consequence, low prices ranging from 1.5 to 2.0 rubles/kg. At such prices, growing feed-grain is unprofitable, even with yields of 40 hundredweight per hectare. At the same time, 3rd grade bread grain with more than 24% gluten content turned out to be in high demand, and commanded a price of 5 rubles/kg. Why, after being cultivated in the same conditions, do some lots of grain have low gluten content (18-20%) while others have high gluten content (28%)?

First of all, this depends on the level of NITROGEN, a most important nutritious element that is provided to the crops. Nitrogen is a cornerstone for the formation of protein in cereal grain varieties. About 3 kg of nitrogen on a primary nutrient basis is needed for the formation of 1 hundredweight of wheat grain. Thus, for a wheat yield of 50 hundredweight per hectare, about 150 kilograms per hectare (kg/ha) of nitrogen active ingredient (soil reserves plus mineral feed) is needed. Depending on the forecrops and types of soil in question, nitrogen reserves in soil are sufficient to produce crops with a yield of 15 to 25 hundredweight per hectare (40-70 kg/ha active ingredient). This is the so-called natural fertility level. To further increase the yield, nitrogen feeding is needed, as shown in Illustration 1.

It is important not only to apply the necessary amount of nitrogen, but also to properly distribute its application over various stages of development. If the feeding of winter wheat is conducted only once in early spring during the tillering period with a 1 hundredweight/hectare (34.4 kg/ha active ingredient) dose of ammonium saltpetre, as is planned on some farms, then that amount of nitrogen would be sufficient only for the initiation of vegetative and generative organs. There would clearly not be enough nitrogen to further support plants during the intensive growth stage (stem elongation), and especially not enough to support grain formation. That is, such an economical approach means a predetermined plan to produce feed grain with low gluten content.

A final feeding for the sake of having quality grain is effective if it is conducted within an optimal timeframe and with sufficient moistening. If the crops are suffering from a severe drought, nitrogen will not be absorbed by the soil, and will not be taken in by the plants in sufficient amounts. The increase of grain gluten content after such feedings would not be substantial.

The scientifically based use of plant-protecting agents remains the most important element in cultivating grain varieties with high-quality indicators for protein. While decent techniques have been developed for applying herbicides and insecticides, and it is possible to choose the type and time of application of an agent based on species composition and level of harmfulness, the application of fungicides is much more expensive and difficult. Thus, costs associated with the application of azole fungicides amount to 480-560 rubles per hectare, while next-generation strobulines already cost 900-1,000 rubles per hectare. Herein lies a real potential for cutting costs. However, such economizing must be justified by the action spectrum of the fungicides.

In practice, in order to protect crops from diseases, it is sufficient to use a good seed disinfectant and to apply azole fungicides once before the 39th stage of development (per the flag schedule). Fungicides prevent the development of diseases over the course of 4-5 weeks, that is, before the crops ripen.

A complete refusal to use fungicides results in the premature atrophy of foliage and the termination of photosynthesis, resulting in reduced volume and quality of harvest.

Volume and quality of harvest are affected by choice of seed variety and its reproductive ability. Every year, EkoNiva APK-Holding carries out a lot of crop variety testing work and works hard to introduce the best foreign varieties to Russias fields. The following varieties have been already included in the Russian Registry: Lars winter wheat, Cinderella winter barley, Trizo spring wheat, Annabel, Margret, and Danuta barley, Phoenix peas from the German selection companies Saaten Union, DSV, and BayWa. In 2009, testing will be completed for the new Madlen and Jenuva (for brewing) varieties of barley, as well as Roket pea. All of these varieties are available for sale as they are produced at EkoNivas fields in the Voronezh, Kursk, Orenburg, and Novosibirsk regions.

Some agronomists feel intimidated when they first start to work with these varieties. They explain this by saying that foreigners are suitable only for greenhouse conditions and intensive technologies. And they are right, to a certain degree. One cannot use old standards on new varieties and technologies. In accordance with Russian standards, we recommend a low rate of seeding. This is explained by the fact that we have high quality seeds with a good tillering potential. In case of a heavy seeding, that potential would not be realized.

Next, special attention should be given to the creation of the seedbed. If pre-seeding tillage is done at 8cm, and sowing at 4-5cm, the seeds will often get suspended in the dry layer of soil, leading to a low level of field germination. Proper pre-seeding tillage and planting seeds in a solid seedbed increases field germination up to 80-85%.

Agronomists at leading Russian holdings have mastered the technological aspects of growing Trizo spring wheat, which has resulted in a shortage of this seed variety. Trizo spring wheat has not only impressed many with its yield indicators (more than 60 hundredweights per hectare), but also with the high quality indicators that it shows after having received a good nitrogen feeding.

Yield for Danuta barley feed grain in the conditions of the Belgorod Region when using energy-saving cultivation technology amounted to 72 hundredweights per hectare in 2008. This variety has adapted well in various corners of Russia, even under the extreme conditions seen in areas like the Kirov Region and Krasnoyarsk Territory.

Trying to reduce costs by purchasing highly reproductive spring and winter varieties results in lower yield and produce quality, which leads to a deterioration in the economic condition of a farm.

Fig. 2. Lars winter wheat has been registered in Russia for 5 years already, and its good harvests continue to bring farmers great joy. Russian English