30 June 2000

Accounts all sorted out

EASTON Lodge arable farm accounts are once again in the public domain. A full analysis, explaining in detail the facts and figures for our financial year ending Nov 30, 1999, appears in this weeks Business section.

The now familiar duo of Simon Bennett and Jane Evans from the Cambridge office of Deloitte and Touche have dissected and examined in fine detail the accounts produced on our computer using the Farmplan Business Manager software.

Familiar results

In addition to the familiar profit and loss, results are also produced on a harvest year basis and compared over a five-year period. Those are perhaps the most useful for management purposes particularly when preparing partial budgets or what-if scenarios to aid decisions on future cropping.

New this year is the break-even price analysis which is something we should all consider when preparing cropping plans for next year. It is a sobering thought that of the six combinable crops grown at Easton Lodge last year, only wheat had a better figure per tonne sold than the break-even price.

Using that analysis we will take steps to rectify the problem by eliminating, as far as possible, the unprofitable areas.

Linseed has gone and was only viable while we were growing it on a seed contract and able to command seed production aid. Spring barley will also go. Normally, it was grown only as a nurse crop for herbage seed or when conditions for sowing wheat after sugar beet become impossible.

That is tied to our decision to drop herbage seed production after 30 years. Sharpes and, more latterly, Advanta Seeds from Sleaford, Lincs with which we have been contracted, has moved out of grass seed production. Herbage seed has always been a difficult crop to budget. And that has been made more difficult by the problems in the livestock industry affecting new sowings of grass mixtures and a strong £ making the market vulnerable to cheap imports.

Growing grass seed now conflicts with the early harvesting slot competing with both winter barley and oilseed rape. All too often we can be caught with a combine committed to grass seed when both malting winter barley is ready and when oilseed rape, which we combine direct, is at a vulnerable stage. Although the area sown rarely exceeds 6% of the arable area, in a wet season that can commit the combine for up to a week.

As an enterprise in the integrated pig and arable businesses at Easton Lodge, herbage seed has been invaluable as an area on which to apply pig slurry and dirty water throughout the winter. But with the move away from slatted area to straw bedding on welfare grounds the quantity of pig slurry has diminished in the past two years.

Peas and OSR

Our aim must now be to concentrate on growing peas and oilseed rape as cheaply as possible to provide a good entry for wheat.

Winter barley will stay in the rotation but Maris Otter will be replaced by Regina or Pearl on a buy-back contract. Hopefully for harvest 2001 we may at least redress the balance between actual price and break-even price per tonne.

The arable department acts as a contractor to our pig unit which provides it with the opportunity of selling about 320t of straw each year. That is baled, carted and stacked for £25/t using labour and machinery costed to the arable unit. In an effort to reduce the cost and time involved, we will for the first time this year use a contractor to wrap up about 100t of wheat straw into large quadrant bales and hope that for next year we may be able to increase that proportion to half.

We already use a contractor to spread our farmyard manure on wheat stubble after harvest. But before then we must move all the FYM from the pig unit to the field using a dump trailer. The above ground Alfa Laval slurry store containing 12 months supply must also be emptied once the combine starts moving.

In return for providing this labour and equipment, the manure is transferred to the arable enterprise from the pig unit at no charge.

Back to now

Returning to the present, the sprayer has been active recently. We have just completed 120ha (300 acres) of contract spraying as well as a few important jobs of our own.

The peas have been sprayed twice; first with a fungicide against botrytis tank-mixed with an insecticide against aphids. The second application at flat pod was with manganese sulphate and an insecticide against pea moth larvae.

The late-sown wheat has had an ear fungicide to control fusarium and our seed plots for multiplication have received a second ear spray plus magnesium and manganese.

All the Malacca milling wheat has had a dressing of liquid urea to boost grain protein applied as a foliar spray after the completion of flowering. We have made this ourselves from cheap solid urea dissolved in water to make a 10% solution and applied at 400l/ha. Hopefully, that will be enough to raise the protein to 13%; the figure required for the full breadmaking specification.

Flashback to last month as Maris Otter winter barley recieves an application of trace elements. Meanwhile, the sprayer has been active again this month, applying liquid urea on to Malacca milling wheat to boost grain protein.