8 December 2000

Cost-cutting program out

A NEW computer-based service to help potato growers identify cost-cutting opportunities is being launched by BPC in time for next spring.

The free-service, paid for by levy funds, is intended to improve the economic efficiency of both ware and seed producers.

"The version of the model for the ware grower can be used for the whole crop from punnets to bakers," says BPC seed manager Joanne Knowles.

"There is also a version for certified seed producers, and home savers who either earmark part of their ware crop for special attention or use mids off the riddle."

The new model contains actual growing costs collected in a recent BPC survey, together with those achieved by best practice as determined by research conducted by PMB, BPC and other organisations.

In prototype form the new service was tested in a trial last summer. Since then it has been tweaked and BPC has undertaken grower evaluations ahead of commercial launch this winter.

"For a ware grower considering saving seed it shows the risks involved and how they should manage the crop. It also identifies extra costs such as roguing, seed treatments, additional aphicides and management inputs. It helps to show whether individual ware growers have the expertise to take on a seed crop, and the best management practices that will be needed." By providing a benchmark charge for all the various items growers who use the service can compare the relative economic performance of their crop.

Ware producers can conduct a break-even analysis for each field to help plan their input strategy to match the expected market price.

"Our model highlights areas for possible savings and cost-cutting opportunities to boost profits without compromising the crop," says Ms Knowles.

Thumbs-up from Cambs grower

Cambridgeshire potato grower Roger Hunt-Pain has tested the pre-production model and identified areas where it will help improve efficiency and cut costs.

He grows 48ha (120 acres) of Maris Piper, Desiree and Sante for pre-packing on mainly black peat at Whittlesey. Most seed is sourced from Scotland, but for the 2000 season 4ha (10 acres) of Piper grown for a specific low-cost market was planted with mids taken from the riddle. He estimates this saved £1000.

"I am looking for other savings within my system, so hope the new BPC model will help track them down," says Mr Hunt-Pain, who is chairman of the newly formed Solanum Growers Group.

"I got my hands on it in early November and uncovered hidden costs which growers tend to ignore. We are good at knowing our variable costs, but fixed costs and overheads are a grey area."

It will be used to compare the fixed cost of individual machinery items and to show how the farm costs stack-up against the benchmark.

"It is a tool for farmers with experience of computers and knowledge of how to use spreadsheets. It has made me aware of all sorts of hidden costs and suggested ways of easing the financial burden," Mr Hunt-Pain says.

New BPC cost calculator looks a useful tool for finding cost savings after this years sodden potato season, says Cambs grower Roger Hunt-Pain.