6 December 1996

Attention to detail soon brings improved results

"MORE attention to detail leads to improved profits," says John Lambkin, manager at FWs Easton Lodge farm. And he believes his office computer enables him to do just that.

"The initial outlay might be steep but the rewards certainly appear to justify the expense at the end of the day," he insists.

Equipped with a Compaq Pentium XE560 computer, Mr Lambkins software includes Farmplan Business Manager, Payroll, Microsoft Office and an Optimix Crop Management System (CMS) level 1 program. Other hardware comprises a laser printer, continuous feed printer and modem link.

"We first started computerising the farm office in 1988," explains Mr Lambkin. "Since then we have had three major updates in terms of computer models and software packages – each one a little more advanced than its predecessor."

Broadly speaking, there are two enterprises at Easton Lodge, pigs and arable, with each individually costed and recorded on the computer. For the arable side the Optimix programme enables individual field records to be recorded – seed, chemicals and fertiliser applications, for example – to provide the cost of each enterprise and, eventually, after harvest, allows gross margins to be calculated.

"It is an on-going record," he says. "At any one moment I can look up the records for an individual field and see just what has been done, when it was done and how much we have spent."

The Optimix program also provides a stock control system for, say, the amount and type of chemical or fertiliser remaining in store, while CMS Planner prepares operator instructions and product requirement information.

But it is the management of the pig enterprise for which Mr Lambkin finds accurate computer records invaluable.

"The fickle prices for finished pigs and variable feed prices mean you have to be fully aware of costs and returns almost on a daily basis," he says. "Without such records, one could soon slip in to a non-profit situation without actually realising it."

For straight farm accounting, the Business Manager program provides a running profit and loss account, with farm purchases and sales being recorded. Updated each month, it provides information to which Mr Lambkin can refer at any time.

In terms of machinery, each item on the farm is given a code number: The farm pick-up is 1 and the sprayer 2, and so on. Any expense incurred is recorded against the code number to provide a breakdown of costs for each individual machine. As a matter of policy each machine is depreciated over eight years to zero.

Staff wages are run on a separate program with such items as income tax, national insurance and holidays automatically accounted for. Staff at Easton Lodge, apart from students, are paid a salary rather than basic plus overtime, which Mr Lambkin says benefits not only his own wages system but the staff themselves.

"Overall, I have to say that for the efficient cost control of our business and the monitoring of enterprise performance we have come to rely heavily on our computerised system," he says. "But the important point is that the computer must be kept up to date and the input information must be accurate. Rubbish in, rubbish out is a good adage to keep in mind."

Looking outside the farm office, Mr Lambkin has resigned himself to "sitting on the fence" before committing any funds to a yield mapping system.

"Yield maps are interesting, and the small-scale field management they allow even more so, but I am not convinced such a system would have a place at Easton Lodge – yet.

"The soil is very free draining and the key to yield increase, and increased profit, relies largely on the amount of rain we get. In a wet year we do well and in a dry one we do not. It is as simple as that."

He points out that to try to apply different application rates of seed or fertiliser to low yielding areas in a dry time would have little or no effect in a wet growing time.

"Until someone can tell me when and how much rain we are going to get at drilling time, I feel the expense in yield mapping equipment would be hard to justify."

Easton Lodge farm manager John Lambkin and secretary Heather Shead with the farms computer system. "We have come to rely heavily on our computerised system," says Mr Lambkin.