Increasing grain yields by even just a small amount could help cereal growers reduce their total productions costs. David Jones reports.

Cereal growers are being urged to cut their production costs per tonne by boosting overall yields and leave the vagaries of the grain market until later.

A relatively small rise in grain yields can bring the cost of producing each tonne down and could mean the difference between profit and loss.

After two difficult seasons, growers are advised to do all they can to protect the yield potential of this season’s currently promising winter cereal crops.

“Growers should focus on quality and yield when producing grain and then think about marketing later,” said Graham Redman, partner and research economist at consultant Andersons.

He calculates a rise in winter wheat yields to 9t/ha from 8t/ha can cut overall production cost per tonne to £133 from about £150, with the higher figure dangerously near current feed wheat prices.

This assumes holding variable costs such as seed, fertiliser and sprays steady, and using better timing and products to give the boost to yields.

“Whatever the price of grain, the more growers have to sell, the more profit they will make,” he added.

With crop establishment generally better than average, many growers will be more confident this season, but Mr Redman argued they must look to protect their yield potential.

One of the biggest factors here is the use of agrichemicals, which he said offered an excellent return on investment in the majority of years.

Mr Redman calculated that a notional 600ha arable farm in the wetter west, say in Gloucestershire, would have seen a fall in profits by £200,000 over the past two seasons.

This was due to the wet 2012 growing season and then poor drilling conditions for the 2013 crop rather than any swing in grain prices.

“We need to catch up after two years when the barn has not been full, and harvest 2014 could be a key opportunity to rebuild farm finances,” Mr Redman told a Syngenta briefing.

Iain Hamilton, field technical manager at Syngenta, emphasised that growers need to protect their cereal investment as there is already plenty of overwintered disease inoculum in fields.

Diseases such as yellow and brown rust and also septoria are already being seen on crops that established and grew well in the mild autumn.

“Prevention is key, particularly with septoria as there is nothing out there with good curative action against the disease,” he told the briefing.

Independent HGCA data has shown a sharp decline in the effectiveness of the biggest fungicide grouping – the triazoles – in the control of septoria over a number of years.

“We cannot go into the field and cure septoria now,” Mr Hamilton added.

Therefore, growers need to use all the chemistry available such as the triazoles, the new generation of SDHI products and the older chlorothalonil as there are no new products likely.

“There is no cavalry coming over the horizon so we need to use what we have at the moment,” he said.

The weather pattern over winter, and especially in April and May, will drive any potential disease epidemic with warm and wet weather likely to increase septoria and rust levels.

“Inoculum is in the crop. It now depends on the weather on how it develops,” he added.

He pointed out there is high varietal susceptibility to rusts, with half the wheat varieties on the HGCA Recommended List having a score of 6 or less for yellow rust, while the figure for brown rust is a more worrying 65%.

The figure for septoria is about 75%, and with fungicide curative action against this disease in decline, prevention is particularly key.

Fungicide responses can change with the season as HGCA trials showed a 3.7t/ha yield response in the wet disease year of 2012 but only 1.1t/ha in the dry and low disease season of 2013.

However, Mr Hamilton stressed that with the difficulty of predicting the weather and because diseases can flare up rapidly, then prevention is key while using all available chemistry.

He suggested the first T0 fungicide timing, usually in March, is key to preventing diseases establishing such as septoria and the rusts.

Mr Hamilton recommended a triazole-chlorothonil mix, such as Syngenta’s Cherokee, which gave a 1.2t/ha yield response compared with no T0 in the high disease year of 2012, according to trials by distributor Agrii.

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