7 September 2001

Flying start to autumn workload raises spirits

Landwork is as up to date as it can be across Sentry Sussex

and the hope is that a smooth run to wheat drilling will set

the pace for the rest of the autumn. Suzie Horne reports

CULTIVATIONS are proceeding apace, with manager Duncan Rawson doing all he can to get crops off to a better start than last year. The damage done by the wet autumn and winter was all too evident this harvest.

"Apart from spring rape not yet cut and some land that was too wet to be disced, were almost drilled up here at Conyboro with the rape and it all went in well.

"Once we start to drill wheat there should be nothing in our way, but we must not relax," says Mr Rawson.

"Were right on top of the discing. The 130 acres to do here is on land that will go into oats, but apart from that, we have been discing just 24 hours in front of the drill on the rape land."

Because the land that remains to be disced at Conyboro was too wet to go when the kit was at the farm, it was moved to drier soils at West Grinstead to complete rape drilling there.

The logistics of placing men and machines across Sentry Sussex, as the newly merged arable operation across six sites in the region is known, now takes up more time. Both combines have been moved away to help out on other Sentry farms where harvest is later, one to Scotland, the other to Suffolk.

The remaining 142ha (350 acres) of Sentry Sussex spring rape will be combined by another Sentry machine from one of the companys Surrey units. So far, only about 30% of the crop is fit to cut.

It has been decided to grow rape again at Conyboro to get an early entry for wheat next autumn, and the 32ha (80 acres) of Disco went in very well, says Mr Rawson.

"We have chosen a fully restored hybrid this time. The seeds not cheap, but we only need a yield increase of less than 0.1t/acre to cover the extra cost, and were confident that we can achieve it.

Once rape drilling is completed at Conyboro and Lock Estates, West Grinstead, the drill will be moved to Ockley to start the wheat at the end of this week.

Gross margins for the Conyboro arable crops reflect the disappointing yields seen across the Sussex Weald. "The margins are better than I expected because I felt we had spent more on herbicides than we did," says Mr Rawson.

"We cut back on fertiliser and on fungicides to a certain extent. Im quite happy with the costs, but in hindsight we could have perhaps cut back even more."

For the wheats, all variable costs were lower than budget, but average yield of 4.9t/ha (2t/acre) was well down on the predicted 7.4t/ha (3t/acre). This knocked the provisional gross margin back to £443/ha (£179/acre), which was £137/ha (£55/acre) below budget.

All margins are still provisional because no crops have been sold. Pearl barleys gross margin of £230/ha (£93/acre) was half the budgeted figure, mainly because yield slumped to just 2.47t/ha (1t/acre) compared with the 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) pencilled in.

Output in the peas was much better, almost matching expectations. They produced a gross margin of £404/ha (£164/acre), just £58/ha (£23.50/acre) under budget.

On the dairy land, £5-£7/ha (£2-£3/acre) more is being spent on better quality grass seed this year. Most of the new ley Italian ryegrass has already been drilled and about half the new longer-term leys put in this spring have had to be patched because of drought damage.

A total of 15 new animals, costing £850/head, have joined the dairy herd through a private deal, replacing the cows returned to the Ryde Estate. Two of the newcomers were bought as calved heifers, two as second lactation cows and the rest are due to calve this month.

Mr Rawson, who has recently been made a director of Southern Milk, adds: "The cows are milking reasonably well at 26 litres/day, but they are not outstanding. This is frustrating when we have so much grass and the gap between milk prices and quota leasing costs has never been so wide." &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Conyboro Farms, in East Sussex, a 405ha (1002 acre) arable and dairy unit, farmed on five-year contract by Sentry Farms.

&#8226 Land is mainly weald clay with a small strip of greensand.

&#8226 Arable crops – all first wheats this season, also winter beans, peas, oats.

&#8226 230-cow dairy, yielding 7696 litres a cow in year to April 2000.

&#8226 Calving mainly June to September. Total dairy forage area of 122ha (302 acres).

&#8226 Five full-time staff, including manager.

&#8226 Arable operations merged with other Sentry farms as Sentry Sussex. Area covers 1133ha (2800 acres).

John Bartholomew (left) and Paul Wren check recently drilled Disco oilseed rape. Manager Duncan Rawson expects the varietys extra yield to offset higher seed costs.