17 July 1998

Freeing-up fixed costs

MODERN, more effective fungicides can help free up so-called fixed costs, according to agronomist Ben Freer.

The wider spraying windows they offer highlight the often forgotten interaction between variable and fixed costs, which must be exploited better with grain at £60/t, he maintains.

The new products could particularly help growers who, with barely adequate sprayer capacity to treat all their crops at the optimum time, are considering a more expensive replacement, says Mr Freer.

Trials suggest other ways of getting the same result are to reduce water volumes, labels permitting, and to adjust dose rates. "If you are prepared to up the dose a bit, for a relatively small increase in variable costs, you may be able to get a wider application window."

Rotational application of phosphate and potash on all but the most deficient soils is a useful way of spreading fixed costs still not used widely enough, he claims. "There is a very wide window for doing it. You do not have to rush around like a scalded cat in the autumn.

"Ask yourself, too, whether your seed-beds suffer from iron poisoning." Old cultivation habits must be questioned, he stresses.

Early sowing of winter cereals helps spread workloads but risks extra lodging and disease, especially take-all as this summer shows, says Mr Freer. "Do not forget you may be able to spread the workload at the other end of the autumn." Two years ago it still made sense to sow wheat rather than barley after sugar beet in November. Recent changes in economics might make malting barley a better bet, he suggests. &#42

FIXED COSTS TARGETS

&#8226 Spraying adjustments.

&#8226 Rotational manuring.

&#8226 Cultivation practices.

&#8226 Drilling strategies.

Think about modifying spray programmes before buying new equipment, suggests Ben Freer.