3 July 1998

COCKLE SHOWS MUSCLE…

Research at Newcastle

Universitys Cockle Park

promises to help northern

growers separate the fact

from the fiction when it

comes to low input farming

systems. Dr Philip Cain

explains the progress

made so far

AGRICULTURAL recession late last century lead Newcastle Universitys Cockle Park farm to launch a series of pioneering experiments. A century later, the university is continuing its research to help producers weather the current farm recession.

Newcastle University Crop and Animals Systems Experiment is designed to help farmers cope with the intensifying economic and environmental pressures. NUCASE is a plot-based field trial established in l992 which compares conventional mixed farming, based on regional good farming practice, with a reduced input farming system.

The 96-plot trial integrates arable and forage crops for grazing and for conservation, operating on eight-course rotations. A five-year comparison of the two systems yield and financial performance will feature in the Universitys exhibit at the show.

Attending the event to discuss preliminary results will be Dr Philip Cain, director of farms, Dr Steve Wilcockson, agronomist and Dr Alan Younger, forage agronomist.

The conventional system was generally higher yielding but some crops in the low input system, notably winter wheat following a legume break, achieved similar yields, says Dr Cain.

The weakest component of the low input system was red clover grown for conservation. It achieved dry matter yields only half that of Italian ryegrass in the conventional system.

There were significant reductions in variable costs on the low input system with fertiliser applications cut by more than half and spray costs by one-third. The five-year average gross margin for the low input plots was £614/ha (£250/acre); 13% lower than the £706/ha (£285/acre) achieved by the conventional system.

So predictions that the performance of the two systems would converge, as the low input rotation developed, have proved unfounded.

To achieve similar levels of profit, the low input system would need to achieve significant savings in overhead costs such as labour and machinery. &#42

Dr Philip Cain, director of farms at Newcastle University, has 96 arable plots at Cockle Park comparing conventional versus low input farming systems.