1 September 1995

BREAK CROP LOSES OUT

BREAK crops have been the main casualties in the European farmers drive for profitability since 1992, as table 2 suggests.

Francois Ringo aims to have far more of his farm in wheat. "Ive got heavy soil and thats where the profit is." But the rotation depends more on subsidies and the market rather than husbandry considerations, he notes.

"Weve stopped growing peas because the subsidy isnt good now." The volatile market for flax, of which he has 14ha (35 acres), has been "very good" for the past two years. "But I think it will be bad next year."

This year wheat occupied 9% more of Jim McCarthys land than it did in 1992. "I wouldnt have expected it," he comments.

Oilseed rape has been dropped "to simplify the operation". Combining peas have also gone, though he still has 24ha (59 acres) for vining.

Straw from the wheat, which fetches up to "£100/ha" for mushroom composting, is a valuable bonus. But late harvests are a worry. "We normally finish around Sept 2. Last year we still had 40% of our wheat to cut on the 20th. It was a very difficult harvest – but yields were good."

Richard Beldam aims to maximise his wheat area. "We want to be half wheat. Its where we make the money," he comments. He too has seen a big change in the value of the crops straw. "Its now worth £50/ha in the field. Three years ago we couldnt give it away."

Oilseed rape and "not very profitable" field beans provide the wheat entry.

Udo Böhme managed to lift his average wheat yield from 6.4t/ha (2.5t/acre) in 1992 to 7.2t/ha (2.9t/acre) last year. And he estimates output could average 7.8t/ha (3.1t/acre) this season. Even so, the wheat area has slipped in favour of barley, partly because of "rotation" and partly because barley is "equally as good" for feeding the units 2600 dairy cows.

With "no blackgrass or slug problems", Ted Kallehave is well placed to make the most of winter wheat. Nevertheless, he now grows proportionately less than he did in 1992 as potentially more rewarding grass and clover seed take a greater share.

"White clover for seed is doing very well," he says. "It has very low costs and we only spray twice." In 1994 it gave a gross margin three times higher than wheat (2567ecu/ha against 859ecu/ha). "Sugar beet at about 1700ecu/ha used to be our best crop."

However, he acknowledges the risks. The 1994 crop yielded 0.74t/ha (5.9cwt/acre). "This year well probably get only 0.5t/ha. And in a wet harvest we could get nothing at all."


Table 2: Change in wheat area as proportion of farms since 1992.

Ringo+13%

McCarthy+9%

Beldam+8%

Böhme-7.5%

Kallehave-8%

Christian von Plate n/a