17 August 2001

French pay for UK yield nous

They are the biggest wheat

producers in Europe, so what

can we teach the French

about agronomy? Quite a lot

it seems and they are

prepared to pay for it too.

Andrew Swallow reports

WHAT would a 1t/ha yield advantage over your neighbours be worth to you?

A lot more than £2.50/ha no doubt. But that is all the members of the Club Cent Quintaux or "Ten Tonne Club" pay for advice that gives them this edge, says French A1 co-op president, Louis Ringo.

Despite no difference in land between members and non-members, average wheat yields in the club are 1-1.5t/ha better than the average for the co-op as a whole. Much of that is thanks to advice from UK farming company Velcourt, he believes.

"The fact that Velcourt is a farming company is very important to us. There is a big pressure from the agrochemical companies to sell products and it is very important for our farmers to know that the advice is unbiased, from farmers for farmers."

Lincs-based senior Velcourt farm manager Simon Boughton has the job of providing that advice. He makes seven visits a year to the Pas-de-Calais region near the English Channel where the co-op operates.

Each visit lasts four days and includes a dozen or more farmer group meetings.

"These are mainly on farms, though some are at the co-ops silos. We try to view at least one crop of wheat, barley, oilseed rape and peas at each meeting," says Mr Boughton.

Discussions go way beyond product advice. "It is not just should I use product A or B. We talk about the nozzles to use, the volume of water, frost risk, all the day-to-day practical questions that a farmer has to deal with."

Timing of operations and cultivations policy is also covered.

"One of the first things we look at with new members is the quality of their seed-beds, the seed rate, and drilling depth. Too many do not look behind the drill and are sowing at 2in deep rather than 1in."

Drilling date traditions have also been swept aside by the club, says Mr Ringo. "When I took over on my farm from my father we used not to drill before November. Now we start on Sept 20."

Every visit is followed up with a report to all members of the club so those who cannot attend in the field are at least alerted to problems seen and topics discussed.

Mr Ringo stresses that the information the club members receive is confidential, something the co-ops advisers are well aware of and respect.

"For example, we have a simple fungicide programme which we recommend to all farmers and another for the club."

But he admits there is a trickle down effect from the club, and an element of envy among non-club members in the co-op.

CLUB CENT QUINTAUX

&#8226 Run by A1 Co-operative, N. France.

&#8226 438 members, 22,000ha.

&#8226 Velcourt visits & advice.

&#8226 £2.50/ha membership fee.

&#8226 1-1.5t/ha wht yield advantage.