Chelmsford: Young Cereals Challenge runners up from Writtle College

A team from Essex has come third in the 2012 Cereals Challenge organised by Hutchinson and Velcourt.

Writtle College students scooped third place in the contest, while the winner was a team from Harper Adams University. The judging and presentation of a �1,000 prize to the team and �500 to their college was announced at the Cereals Event.

Since February, students from the six agricultural colleges selected to compete have been managing a crop plot to grow the best crop of winter wheat in the taxing conditions at the Boothby Graffoe site.

This year’s six teams were chosen in a random draw from 12 that applied and were: Askham Bryan College, Bishop Burton College, Harper Adams University, Lincoln University, Newcastle University and Writtle College. Newcastle University came second and Writtle College were third.

The Challenge, now in its third year, aims to encourage a new generation of farmers and agronomists by giving them a plot of wheat to manage and sell. In addition to working as a team, the Challenge tests the students’ practical field skills, their agronomic decision making and their understanding of grain marketing.

The judges were Keith Norman, Technical Director at Velcourt, Dick Neale, Technical Manager of Hutchinsons, and Alastair Priestley, of Patrick Dean Ltd, Cereals’ host farmer.

“The students had their work cut out,” said Keith Norman. “The soil is very shallow, low in fertility and it is a third wheat crop with careful nitrogen management needs. It has also been a challenging disease management year with a long dry March followed by heavy rain and a resulting escalation of Septoria pressure.”

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“Budget management has been tricky for this year’s participants because there have had to strike a balance between yield ceiling and trying to maximise returns from expensive inputs,” he added.

Hutchinsons and Velcourt say the contest is an important opportunity for soon-to-be graduates to have a taste of some of the tasks a career in farm management, agronomy or technical services might require of them.

Velcourt takes on up to six trainee farm managers every year, plus has roles for tractor drivers and trainee managers and Hutchinsons have now had 20 young people through their comprehensive three-year Foundation programme and are recruiting again for the 2012 intake.

Mike Young, Chairman of Hutchinsons said: “We feel the Cereals Challenge is great way to work closely with colleges and universities to help students experience the commercial realities of decision-making on farm. We also see the Challenge as a way of supporting the new entrants joining the industry and to introduce them to a potential career opportunity in agronomy through our Foundation Training Programme. The goal of the Foundation is to develop a new generation of agronomists who have a very good understanding of the big picture of farming coupled with strong agronomic and business skills,” he explained.

Velcourt’s trainee farm managers undergo a 20-day training programme in addition to a junior management programme which covers leadership, technical husbandry and business management. Nick Shorter, responsible for Human Resources at Velcourt added: “Encouraging good young people into the industry is hugely important; like many businesses in agriculture we have an aging staff profile at all levels of the company and if we wish to sustain the levels of energy, innovation and growth within our business, we need to ensure we have the right candidates coming through the ranks.”