Crop switch keeps cash in bank
AUTUMN sowing has been no problem for a former farmers weekly barometer farmer this season, but the rain is not the reason.
A hard look at the business at Bailielands Farm, Auchterader, Perth, has convinced Eric Haggart that money he might have spent on winter crop establishment is better off earning interest in his bank.
"With cereal prices as they are we are effectively working for nothing and getting no profit for reinvestment in the farm. "Doing away with winter cropping gives us a breathing space to decide which direction to go in next year."
Much depends on malting barley contract prices, he says. "The contracts are not out yet. If they are not as good as last year we shall probably go for more set-aside and maybe increase the sheep, although that trade is in the doldrums and has not been helped by new concern over scrapie." His lamb-production flock has already expanded from 200 to 500 mule cross ewes since 1997.
Last years cropping on the 200ha (495-acre) unit included 53ha (130 acres) of winter barley and wheat split roughly equally. There was 59ha (120 acres) of spring barley with the balance in linseed and grass.
"We had some pretty good yields. This year our Consort, Riband and a bit of Claire wheat averaged 3.85t/acre. But you cannot budget on that. You have to look at a realistic average, which for us is more like 3-3.25, and at £60/t there is no point in growing it.
"I do not think we can increase yields much more, and I need at least £80/t.
"With spring malting barley we can get 2.25t/acre and the straw is more saleable. Prisma is still well sought after. And at an average of £83/t this year for samples below 1.5N for distilling, when you look at the gross margins there is nothing between it and winter wheat.
"I would rather keep the money in the bank for six months than have it lying in the ground."
Winter barley, mainly Fanfare, originally an entry for oilseed rape, proved disappointing at only 6.4t/ha (2.6t/acre). And with rape dropped as uneconomic two seasons ago, it is hard to make a case for continuing with winter barley, says Mr Haggart.
Linseed offers little more than the subsidy, he believes. "It is not a viable option any longer."
Prices aside, another factor bears heavily on his cropping plans. "One of the biggest problems this year was the difficulty of getting malting barley moved off-farm at harvest. The stop-go progress really showed how maltsters are not geared up to cope with modern combine capacity.
"Whatever the prices, I shall certainly try to spread my contracts with more merchants. We do not have any good storage for malting barley on the farm."
Contracting by son Adam brings in a small income. "But it is definitely not our salvation. There just are not the opportunities."
Mr Haggart rules out expansion as the way ahead. "The growing consensus round here is that many farmers who have expanded have simply doubled their workload for no more money." *
• Autumn cropping abandoned.
• Economics, not weather, to blame.
• Breathing space for decision making.
• Spring malting contracts critical.
Eric Haggert (right) and son, Adam, have abandoned autumn drilling.