24 March 2000

Good wheats at Nocton, but margins wafer thin

WHEATS at Nocton are well on course to match last years 9t/ha (3.6t/acre) average across all sowing dates.

But margins will be wafer thin and owner Paul Clarke wonders how others are affording FBT rents of £240/ha (£100/acre).

"Either they know something we dont or else they are working with their eyes closed. They must just be running their equipment to rust. They cant be allowing for depreciation."

Total return from over 2500ha (6000 acres) is £200,000 before area aid – just £80/ha (£33/acre). "We cant afford to invest management time when wheat is worth £60/t. Compared with an extra 1p a bunch on a million bunches of daffodils it just isnt worth it. We have to adopt more of a ranching management style."

Cereal agronomy is now bought in at the equivalent of £7.35/ha (£3/acre), IACS returns cost £2.50/ha (£1/acre) and in-house arable management time is increasingly being diverted onto the flower enterprise too.

Given all those changes cereals are still looking far better than usual for the time of year, notes farm manager Martin Reams. "We have had a very good winter and Evict seed treatment means we have had no trouble with wheat bulb fly. We used to spend half of February and March chasing the pest. The extra cost is well worthwhile."

Main concern last week was herbicide, split dose chlormequat and manganese spraying. "The wind has held us up. We need three good days to get back on top."

A self-propelled Househam Imp and trailed Knight sprayer, each 24m and 3000 litres, are dedicated to the 1390ha (3400acres) of cereals and peas, making that a realistic proposition.

"The first two years we were here we got in a diabolical mess with too little sprayer capacity," says Mr Clarke. More machines and dual-filler static water tanks across the farm now mean faster turnarounds. "We want every spray on at the right time. Delays cost money in increased rates and more expensive products."

First nitrogen is already on, rates varying from 23-40kg/ha (units/acre) according to sowing date, crop density, prior crop and soil type. At £66.50/t bulk urea bought via Bunns was well priced. "Our total fertiliser cost for wheat will be just £20/ha," comments Mr Clarke. Matching that in future will not be so easy, he admits. &#42

With wheat at £60/t, management time is being directed towards more profitable enterprises, like daffodils, at Nocton, say owner, Paul Clarke (left), and farm manager, Martin Reams.