8 January 1999

Variety choice all set to deliver big yield boosts

By Andrew Blake

MUCH better wheat profits could be just around the corner, according to NIAB. But growers will have to choose varieties carefully to maximise returns.

In five years time the reward from growing the top yielding Recommended List winter variety could be 41% more than that of todays highest yielder, Savannah, suggests deputy director Simon Draper.

Should the new variety also display the disease defences of todays most resistant types, for example Claire and Malacca, the bottom line would be even better, boosting crop profitability by 78%, says Dr Draper.

With current input, output and area aid payments, the 6% higher yielding hypothetical feed variety Prospect proves the point. NIABs economic prediction model gives Savannah a gross margin of £650/ha (£263/acre). Deducting fixed costs of £550/ha (£223/acre) leaves a profit of £100/ha (£40/acre). Prospect, requiring the same inputs but delivering an extra 0.55t/ha (4.5cwt/acre), leaves £141/ha (£57/acre).

Improved disease resistance also offers potential. "In the short term it may be optimistic to expect breeders to combine the best yield with best resistance. But were that possible, say in a variety we could call Prospect-plus, fungicide inputs could be reduced."

The fungicide spend could fall £37/ha (£15/acre), leaving a bottom line profit for Prospect-plus of £178/ha (£72/acre) – well up on that from Savannah now.

NIAB cereals specialist Richard Fenwick is cautiously optimistic. "Yields have been going up about 1% a year, so a 5% improvement is certainly possible. But whether you would get better disease resistance at the same time is more debatable. Yield and disease resistance do not necessarily go hand in hand." &#42

Breeders look set to maintain the current rate of improvement in cereal varieties. Provided growers choose the right newcomers, that could do much to safeguard farm profits, says NIAB.

Feed wheat profit (£/ha)

S P P-P

Yield differential – +6% +6%

Yield (t/ha) 9.16 9.71 9.71

Output** 917 958 958

Fungicide 66 66 29

Other variables 201 201 201

Total variables 267 267 230

Gross margin 650 691 728

Fixed costs 550 550 550

Profit 100 141 178

S – Savannah, P – Prospect, P-P – Prospect-plus

**Wheat @ £75/t & area aid £230/ha.

IN BRIEF

uNEW broad-leaved weed herbicide Lotus (cinidon-ethyl) can now be used in winter rye and durum wheat as well as winter wheat and winter and spring barley, says manufacturer BASF. Although tank mixing with Duplosan (mecoprop-P) is advocated in wheat and barley, it can be used alone in durum and rye, it notes.

uCOMBINING crop records and farm accounts software packages saves time entering data and eliminates duplication of records, says Farmade Management Systems. Its link between the Multicrop package and Landmarks Key Accounts software reduces paper flows and is a big hit with customers, claims commercial director Peter Henley. The link software alone costs £150.

uGM MAIZE carrying the Bt insect tolerant gene could be safer to eat than conventional varieties, suggests Susan Keith of the Washington-based National Corn Growers Association. Such maize is less likely to contain aflatoxins, which could be a risk to human health, she says. "Less insect activity means there is less risk of mycotoxins, which are perceived to be a legitimate health risk."

uMIXED farms can record arable and grassland management on one simple system with Optimix Grassland, says package designers Farmplan. Launched at Smithfield show it is designed for smaller farm businesses, and at £375 ex VAT offers a cheaper alternative to the Optimix arable system. &#42

Europe says lower inputs dont hit profits

REDUCING chemical inputs and taking greater care of the environment does not mean lower profits.

That is the main message emerging from a large-scale integrated arable farming project started in Holland in 1990.

The exercise, carried out at three regional experimental centres and on 38 commercial farms, shows that with careful manipulation of the rotation and changes in management, pesticide, nitrogen and phosphate inputs can be cut without loss of income.

Indeed, thanks to the better quality and thus higher value of crops, average return was 5-10% higher than crops produced by conventionally run reference farms. This was despite the slightly lower IAF crop yields.

In 1993, as soon as the IAFs success was evident, the project was expanded to involve 500 farms. By then the approach was becoming more readily accepted, so the extra farmers were easy to recruit and eager to participate, says Frank Wijnands, who helped set up the project.

A similar scheme for organic farming has been established in Holland and one for vegetable production has been mooted, he adds.

"Participation in the project has increased farmers awareness that conventional systems and the pollution problems they create are not sustainable," says Mr Wijnands of the Applied Research for Arable Crops Organisation, Lelystad.

A similar scheme has been operating in south-west Germany for the past 10 years involving 17 farmers with 1200ha (3000 acres) of arable land. They founded the AKIL club to disseminate information, discuss their problems, improve their IAF management and inform consumers about their aims and activities.

They are also supplying products of guaranteed quality and provenance at a premium to buyers such as millers. The end products are sold under the AKIL logo.

An essential and very successful aspect of the schemes success is good technology transfer, says Adel El Titi of the Institute of Plant Protection, Stuttgart. Two approaches, bottom-up and top-down, have been used. The former gives farmers a free hand to adopt or reject proposals from specialist IAF advisers and the latter involves the binding adoption of national and state regulations designed to reduce agrochemical usage and improve water quality and wildlife.

"We want to make from production systems transparent to consumers," says Dr El Titi. "One way AKIL members achieve this is by opening their farm gates to people annually." &#42

Frank Wijnands – Dutch growers improved margins by reducing inputs.

Adel El Titi – Producers in south-west Germany have clubbed together to promote Integrated Arable Farming.