23 June 1995

Break crop savings hard hit by politics

FREER markets and reduced support following political changes could hit rotations, putting traditional break crops like pulses under greater pressure, says ADAS.

Recently growers have tried to eliminate most second wheats and substitute more profitable breaks. But the trend could revert to more intensive cereals, says Jim Orson, head of cereals development at ADAS. That conflicts with using rotations to cut inputs, he suggests.

The reasoning is straightforward – wheat and barley are the least well supported combinable crops. ADAS economist Mark Lazzeri calculates 32% and 40% of the gross margin from winter wheat and winter barley respectively comes from area aid. For oilseed rape, peas, beans and linseed the figures are 62.5%, 70%, 68% and 85%. "Across the board" cuts would hit cereals less hard than, say, peas and beans.

"All the balls are in the air," says Mr Orson. High yielding hybrid rape and other biotech advances could change the calculations. "But it would be unwise for growers to rely on rotations to deliver savings on inputs.

"The pressure is already there to go back to cereals," says Mr Lazzeri. Total UK oilseed area has dropped 11.4% with spring rape sowings 35% down on last year. "Weve already seen peas and beans becoming less attractive, which has pushed farmers to look again at second wheats." Novel fungicides mean growers are now generally less concerned about the potential disease risk, he adds.

"There is certainly still a place for break crops, but growers will have to make sure they are grown on the right land." With an estimated support price of £526/ha (£213/acre) for this years harvest, linseed "has got to be attractive" on land where other crops might struggle. "If you can get another £20/t for the straw for fibre on top its even more so." &#42