Top of the crops

An independently-owned agricultural merchant, Zantra supports individual farmers, independent agronomists and buying groups across the UK by leading the way in technical agronomy advice and services

Murray and Elisabeth Mackay share much in common, one thing being that they each come from fourth generation farming families, and their respective upbringings no doubt played a role in influencing the pair in establishing Zantra in 2003. A farmer-owned, farmer-led and farmer-focused agrochemical supply business, it is today one of the UK’s largest agricultural merchants, headquartered at Garden Farm, Great Staughton, Cambridgeshire.

Driven by its goal to be the benchmark for technical agronomy advice and service, Zantra supports farmers, independent agronomists and buying groups, working in partnership with each customer to maximise the return on their investment by providing an individually tailored, high level of service. As well as offering effective crop protection solutions for combinable, vegetable, potato and root crop protection – based on industry leading agronomic advice – the company also supplies an extensive range of crop protection products, crop nutrients, fertilisers and seeds from leading manufacturers. Among the range of products it supplies are fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, plant growth regulators, molluscicides, nematicides and micronutrients.

As well as having the right products to hand, Zantra understands that effective crop production also requires the right advice and support in order to ensure high yields and productivity. Therefore, the company strives to provide a personal, professional and reliable advice and supply service that delivers the products its customers need, when they need them. It achieves this through a network of strategically located BASIS approved depots in areas including, Cambridge, Doncaster, Faversham, Winchester, and Telford. Each site holds the stock Zantra’s customers require, which is topped up overnight during peak periods, and is run by qualified store managers and drivers.

Zantra’s farm supply business has no doubt been strengthened in recent years by its recruitment of a growing number of experienced agronomists. This has enabled it to provide ever-improving, individually tailored agronomy support where it is requested. Among other things, its agronomists provide crop protection solutions that focus on clear, practical approaches that improve yield, quality and profitability. This includes regular, planned, crop inspections, and cultural, varietal, nutritional and protection advice with due respect paid to the environment.

Invaluable data
The company’s supply and advice service benefits greatly from the support of its own independent trials, which take place at key locations in the UK’s main arable regions. The work that occurs during said trials aims to address all manner of key issues, such as weed, disease and pest resistance. It also helps to generate invaluable technical data to back Zantra’s agronomist’s understanding of product performance as they strive to bring the maximum return to customers’ crop production investment.

Work that is regularly undertaken during Zantra’s trials include nutrient development in a broad range of crops, helping it to identify new approaches that it can share with its customers. Meanwhile, the company works closely with plant breeders, testing new material at an early stage under strict crop protection programmes and fertiliser regimes that push varieties to extremes.

An example of Zantra’s efforts in trialling different crop varieties would be its recent work with triticale. A cross between wheat and rye – it combines wheat grain qualities with rye’s lower input requirements and hardiness – around 16,000ha of triticale is grown in the UK annually, with both winter and spring varieties available. Triticale is a crop that can be grown for both feed grain and wholecrop, opening up a place for it to exist in the energy markets, while also being suitable for feeding to both ruminants and non-ruminants. Testing over a six-year period has shown it to outyield first wheats by three per cent and second wheats by eight per cent, while its high levels of lysine, methionine and threonine make it especially suitable for feeding to pigs. In the field, its high yields, resistance to septoria, take-all tolerance and fewer pest problems are all useful, while the crop’s competitiveness against black-grass and lower nitrogen requirement than other cereals are further advantages.

New approaches
In the East Midlands, Zantra agronomist Charles Starkings has had triticale growing on five farms for several years, and has found it to be a popular low input crop choice, with very good yields achieved to date – reaching as high as 13 t/ha on one farm – and management proving to be straightforward. “It’s being grown for grain and it typically sells at a £10 discount to wheat,” Charles explains. “It’s either being used as a more profitable alternative to second wheat or where growers don’t want winter barley in the rotation. A few more herbicide options exist than are available in barley and a very competitive growth habit make triticale good for black-grass situations. I also believe it has a role in helping to smother grass weeds and limit seed return. Triticale is cheaper to grow, in terms of fungicides and nitrogen, but it does need attention with growth regulators as it can grow very tall and will put on a great deal of biomass quickly.”

When it comes to all of its work, Zantra is always keen to showcase its trial efforts, regularly hosting summer meetings at its various sites where it welcomes visitors to see how it is investigating and developing new agronomic approaches across a wide range of crops. After all, it is such work that goes to the very heart of the company’s ability to deliver trusted crop protection products and advice of the highest order.