6 September 1996

Anticipate trickier times…

Gauging the mood and plans of arable farmers after this years initially barn-busting grain harvest is far from easy. The views of growers in the north, caught by inclement weather before all has been gathered in, will be markedly different from those in the south.

But wherever you farm, next season cuts in area aid, volatile grain prices and increasing input costs look set to make life trickier than ever before. Add to that the increasing demands from buyers that all commodities be squeaky clean with records to prove it, and some growers may even be tempted to throw in the towel.

On the brighter side the slow demise of set-aside will be viewed by many with relief. Admittedly that view will not be shared by industrial croppers or those who have lately discovered the environmental benefits of idle land.

Tight cost control, well considered investments, and a readiness to stay fully abreast of technical developments should all help to maintain efficiency. But for those looking for long-term prosperity, yield and quality will also be key drivers. High output from spot-on husbandry reduces the unit cost of production, and proven top quality ensures constant customer demand.

Many businesses are seeking salvation through expansion and/or reducing staffing levels. Such strategies have their attractions but make a farm increasingly vulnerable to sickness. The role of contractors should never be forgotten.

The days when one could afford to "go it alone" are also fading. Listening and acting on good outside advice should be seen as bringing valuable expertise on to the farm.

Throwing all these factors into the melting pot in a recipe for the "optimum" set-up could well be a task for a computer. Farmers relying on intuition may come up with the right formula. They might also win the National Lottery jackpot.