24 August 2001

Agriknowledge project on expansion course

Return to school and rethink

the way you run your arable

business. That is the advice

from the HGCA as it launches

a major initiative to underpin

the government-backed

Agriknowledge programme.

Charles Abel reports

Designed as part of the Blair initiative to get technical information to smaller farms, the Agriknowledge arable project now aims to help all crop-based businesses improve farm profits.

"The foot-and-mouth crisis delayed the roll-out of the project, giving us time to integrate it into something much bigger, which will be relevant to most growers," says HGCA communications manager Rosie Bryson.

"It was originally aimed at smaller farms, but focus group research helped us shift the emphasis to the more medium-sized farms, which are suffering because of borrowings, commitments and higher labour costs."

The main aim is to get farmers to take a closer look at profitability and to compare their enterprises with those of others. Only then can they focus on what makes the difference between success and failure.

"One of the most startling things we found in our initial research was how few farms are keeping business records for things like labour costs, depreciation and input costs," says Dr Bryson.

Many farms do not do that because they do not want to know what the figures are, she fears. "It can be quite painful, but growers need to sit down and do it and start working on the areas that need attention."

To help growers pin down and compare costs, the Agriknowledge team – comprising ADAS, Morley, HGCA, IACR Rothamsted and Nottingham University – has produced guides for profitability, fixed costs, variable costs and marketing.

Each includes benchmarks and relevant advice based on farm survey data from Nottingham and Cambridge Universities and Askham Bryan College. Each guide has already been circulated with FWs sister magazine Crops and bound sets are now available free from the HGCA. A dedicated web-site, interactive CD and a series of autumn roadshows are also on offer.

The main aim of the roadshow meetings is to combine the best of the traditional HGCA R&D roadshows, including marketing advice, plus the Agriknowledge messages, says Dr Bryson. "They will provide the technical information to help growers achieve the benchmarks laid out in the Agriknowledge guides."

Also on offer after the roadshow meetings will be an informal IT workshop, where farmers will get the opportunity to see the latest agricultural web-sites, use interactive CDs and discuss the basic use of computers with IT specialists.

Roadshow places are free, but will be on a first come first served basis. Last year several venues were oversubscribed.

The web-site (www.agriknowledge.co.uk) includes basic advice, plus HGCA topic sheets, DEFRA information, the Wheat Disease Management Guide, the trials4u2c summary of HGCA trials sites and a host of other technical information. The CD carries a similar package for use off-line. &#42

BENCHMARKS

&#8226 Top 25% 2t/ha more yield than bottom 25%.

&#8226 Top 25% £4/t better price than bottom 25%.

&#8226 Slightly lower inputs, better timed.

&#8226 Calculate annual machine costs.

&#8226 Main tractor 800-1000 hours/year.

&#8226 Support tractor 500-800 hours/year.

&#8226 Plough 1.2-2ha/furrow/10-hour day.

&#8226 Sprayer 12m 300ha/year, 24m over 500ha/year.

&#8226 Combine 250-300 hours/season at 1.5-3ha/hour.

&#8226 Change cultivations, save 25% time.

&#8226 Share machines/labour, save costs.

&#8226 Tailor seed rate, save £30-40/ha, boost output £100/ha.

&#8226 Avoid fertiliser comfort zone.

&#8226 Exploit variety disease ratings.

PROGRAMME FACTS

&#8226 Government-backed project.

&#8226 £280,000 budget to March 2002.

&#8226 Business and technical advice.

&#8226 ADAS, Morley, HGCA, IACR Rothamsted and Nottingham University.

&#8226 www.agriknowledge.co.uk

&#8226 Guides from publications@hgca.com or 020-7520 3926

Have you received the Agriknowledge yet? It could seriously improve your chances of profiting from next years crops, says Rosie Bryson of the HGCA.