The top quarter of winter wheat growers achieved gross margins £157/ha (64/acre) higher than average last year, according to Procam’s 4cast agronomy survey.

The best 25% harvested 9.9t/ha (4t/acre) and produced gross margins for first wheats of £492/ha (199/acre) compared with the average of £335/ha (136/acre).

“The biggest determinant in maximising margins is management ability,” Nick Myers, the group’s technical agronomist told delegates at the firm’s spring conference at the South of England Centre, Ardingly, West Sussex.

“The top 25% of farmers achieve not just higher yields, but lower variable costs.”

The top quarter of growers spent £14.49/t on agrochemicals, nearly £3/t less than the average, he continued.

Fungicide spend was £5.94/t compared with the average of £7.21/t.

“Correct product choice, using the right dose rate, getting onto crops early, and not stretching spray intervals all have an impact on margins.

Combined, they have a major impact on farm profitability,” he said.

According to the survey, 60% of top growers’ wheat fields had seed-beds prepared using minimum tillage.

But herbicide costs were £5-10/ha (2-4/acre) higher for non-ploughed fields.

“First wheats, particularly on heavy soils, have more money spent on herbicides than second wheats, showing growers may not be taking advantage of break crops to cut weed levels,” said Mr Myers.

Growers using non-plough establishment methods should make full use of cultural controls, adjusting sowing dates, using stale seed-beds and non selective herbicides to reduce costs and improve weed control, he advised.

All the main grass weeds are showing marked increases in resistance levels since 1999, the survey shows.

The percentage of areas moderately affected by resistance has risen to 52% from 31% and severe resistance has risen to 29% compared with 18% five years ago.

mike.stones@rbi.co.uk