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Damian McAuley

April Edition of Agronomist & Arable Farmer – Damian McAuley

3 minutes April 14, 2021

You don’t have to be religious to have faith. In fact, the more modern and secular the world becomes, the deeper our faith needs to be.

With increasing technological progress, we become ever more removed from the mechanics of these technologies. We no longer know how stuff works or how it is made. We therefore have to trust others to ensure it does what it should and that it doesn’t snuff us out in the process. Without faith, we would be unable to function.

Back in the day we could be faithless and untrusting. You knew where your food had come from, as you had hunted and gathered it yourself. You knew the abilities of your tools and weapons, as you had made them yourself. And if you found yourself sharing a dwelling with a cave bear at the end of a busy day, then it was your fault for not checking your abode properly before setting up camp.

We now rely on so much technology that we can have no idea how it all works. You might know a lot about some technologies, but no one can know it all. You might know how to build a bicycle, but not how to design a suspension bridge. Or you could be a nuclear physicist, but have no idea about air traffic control. I could go on, but you get the idea.

From travel, to communication, from eating, to utilities, education and the basic functioning of a modern, industrialised economy we all rely-on, and have to have faith-in, the expertise of others. And most of these others, we will never meet. That is pure, blind faith.

The current pandemic has shone a clear light on this fact. Very few of us are viral experts or epidemiologists, so we have had to trust the advice of others. The crisis has also shown us the importance of trusting the right people and how ill-suited some of us are to determining the right people to listen to. It has also shown how some self-proclaimed experts are happy to exploit this lack of judgement for their own gain.

The same dynamics are true in agronomy. We are people of science and we deal in scientific fact. But we ultimately have to put faith in experts when it comes to the mass of technical information we are presented with in any given season. And we too have to be careful about whose advice we should have faith in and avoid the false prophets with their commercial biases or axes to grind.

After a year in which sugar beet growers experienced their own pandemic, we were blessed with the salvation of an emergency approval for the use of neonicotinoid seed treatment this season. As part of this authorisation, and despite what the ill-informed but loudest-voiced critics would have the world believe, the use of the seed treatment had to be limited and demonstrably employ integrated pest management techniques before its use would be allowed. Its approval in any year is therefore reliant on reaching certain thresholds.

Due to a cold snap in February and low aphid numbers in over-winter traps, the models and forecasts have calculated that this threshold would not be reached and the first aphid flights would be later in the spring than usual – and hopefully after the crops have achieved mature plant tolerance.

If the experts are right, and our faith is well-placed, then there’s nothing to worry about. However if the models are correct, then the forecast is still for 8.37% of the national sugar beet area to be affected which might be plenty to worry about if yours is some of that predicted 8,700ha. And with seed only just arriving on farm at the end of March and air temperatures soaring into the mid-20s, I would be lying if I didn’t feel my faith being seriously tested.

However, as there’s nothing we can do about legislative decisions already made, we have to keep our faith. Keep our faith and get that seed in the ground as soon as it is delivered to ensure development to 12 leaves as quickly as possible. Oh yes, and say a little prayer.

First published in April 2021 edition of Agronomist and Arable Farmer magazine. To read the original article or to find out more, please visit

Avatar for  Damian McAuley

Damian McAuley

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