3 March 2000

30%variation in prices paid for sprays – survey

By Andrew Swallow

SOME growers are paying over 30% more than others for the same agro-chemical products, according to a survey released last week. But distributors question such a large variation.

Buying group members came out best in the Brown & Co survey, which collated invoice prices for over 4000 individual product purchases by 100 growers last season.

For example, one grower paid £9.59/litre for Dursban (chlorpyriphos) insecticide while another paid £11.56/litre. Both purchases were serviced, but differed by 21%.

"What we notice is that some farms are buying very badly," says Bury St Edmunds-based partner Richard Levin. Big growers did not always get the best deals in the national survey.

"In theory non-service clients should always be able to buy more cheaply, but that is not always the case. Nor are small farms necessarily at the bottom of the table," he explains.

ProCams technical director David Ellerton admits to being staggered at the variation reported in the Brown & Co report. "Obviously there will be a variation according to the level of service, maybe 5% or 10%, but certainly not 30%."

The most expensive chemical a grower can buy is the wrong chemical, applied at the wrong rate and/or the wrong time, he adds. "There is more to this business than just price. Input cost per tonne of production should be the benchmark."

Group buyer Warren Stead of West Essex Farmers reckons to make the biggest savings for clients on older chemicals such as chlormequat. But newer products, such as strobilurin Amistar (azoxystrobin), are priced very similarly, he says.

However, Framlingham Farmers buyer Graham Aldrich says some of the best deals are to be had on the newer lines. "The quotes we get for the commodity chemicals are broadly similar."

Whatever the products, Mr Levin says growers should seriously consider group buying. "We cant account for membership costs in the survey, but buying groups appear to be a better way of buying your chemicals."

In the current climate, every saving is important. On a 200ha (500 acre) cereal farm with chemical costs of £20,000 a 20% saving could cut £4,000 or £20/ha (£8/acre) off the bill, he calculates.

Subscription to the agro-chemical price comparison database costs Brown & Co clients £75-£125/yr, depending on farm size. Reports are annual at present but a mid-summer update and on-line service are being considered.

"It gives clients the ammunition to negotiate, so they can quantify where they are," says farm consultant Richard Wordsworth.

AG-CHEM PRICING

* Over 30% variance in prices.

* Buying groups do best.

* Some service cheaper than quotes.

* Negotiating tool.

AG-CHEMPRICING

&#8226 Over 30% variance in pricing.

&#8226 Buying groups do best.

&#8226 Some service suppliers cheaper than quote business.

&#8226 Negotiating tool.