29 May 1998

HOST FARMER

HASSTRATEGY FORSUCCESS

Like most other arable farms, Haverholme Farm

Partnership – the host for Cereals 98 – faces a

challenging season. John Allan reports some of the key

issues and Velcourts planned solutions

CROP prices this harvest will be well below budget, so yields need to top the five year average to protect farm profits.

That is the scenario facing Velcourt regional farms director, Ken Shipley and Cereals 98 host farm manager Chris Redfearn. The farm budget was prepared last July and reviewed in October to finalise price and input costs.

"We wont meet our price expectations from this years harvest, so we need a yield above the five-year rolling average to soften the financial blow," says Mr Shipley.

Greater use is also likely to be made of options to iron out price volatility in the cereal market. But changes in interest rates will have to be taken whatever they are. "We hope the predictions of the Euro damping them down will prove true."

Maintaining appropriate input levels, despite the lower crop values, has been an essential part of the Velcourt strategy this year. "If we are going to maintain yield and quality we cant compromise on choice of inputs. But we can buy as competitively as possible," says Mr Shipley.

Fortunately, direct costs are well under control, the major capital investments having been made ahead of the current income trough. "That will stand us in good stead over the next year or two."

A key benefit from those investments is falling establishment costs, comments Mr Redfearn. "Over recent autumns we have managed to trim 15% off our cultivation costs."

Yet more savings are hoped for this autumn as the limited pass system is refined. The approach centres around a Challenger crawler which pulls a 4m Simba Mono double disc and press followed by a Freeflow 8m cultivator drill. Falling depreciation should help boost cost savings, he adds.

Autumn costs are also saved by using tractors on contract hire with servicing included. That makes budgeting much easier. But there are concerns about how easy such machines will be to source in future.

Additional costs foreseen this year include some extra soil care after the wheeling damage caused by fertiliser and spray applications, with a hope that it will not be made worse at harvest. Otherwise the plough may have to replace the flatlift as it did last autumn.

A key add-on to this years wheat budget is likely to be additional fungicide costs. "There is immense Septoria pressure after the rain, although the mildew has not been a problem recently. And although new chemistry is very interesting, we have to know the costs benefit ratio and find out when to use which product and what to mix it with to get the best result," comments Mr Redfearn.

To find answers and contain variable costs he does all the crop walking himself and makes his own spray decisions.

A recent Assured Combinable Crops Scheme verification visit revealed some minor additional recording requirements, such as cleaning grain trailers and buckets and sprayer calibration, which will involve management time.

The thought of having to retain 280 harvest samples for up to three months does not endear itself to Mr Redfearn. "I havent got the space," he says.

The only major cost resulting from the inspection is £1400 on lighting to eliminate the risk of broken glass contaminating the grain, says Mr Redfearn. A much smaller investment is converting a 210 litre drum to the new BAA/Silsoe design for smoke free incineration of rinsed pesticide packs and cardboard outers.

An intended spring vining bean crop did not materialise this year and Mr Shipley now favours keeping to the current simple and successful rotation of winter wheat, barley and rape which is well suited to the difficult sticky soil at Haverholme. "We have tried various alternative crops without great success on this farm. Autumn sowing is essential," he adds.

The winter wheat varieties favoured this year include Reaper, Beaufort, Riband, Consort and Equinox, with Rialto on lighter land. For the future he is looking to Savannah, Weston and Aardvark, while he is happy with the Apex, Pronto, Amber and Lipton oilseed rape varieties in the ground this year.

One certainty about the future is that it will produce yet more challenges Mr Shipley believes that only well trained staff will be able to deliver the crop quality, environmental protection, quality assurance and traceability now demanded.

A training needs assessment is carried out for each member of staff each year and local training groups, operator training courses and in-house training used to meet their need.

On the day of the visit to Haverholme fifteen tractor drivers from group farms were taking advantage of the Cereals 98 plots to receive crop agronomy training.

In addition, when new machinery or accessories are introduced a full induction is given. For example, the new DriftBeta nozzles recently arrived on the farm revealed a visual spray pattern that the sprayer operator did not like. But a full calibration check and demonstration with water followed by a deposition check in the crop convinced him that a good cover was possible, along with the undoubted reduction in drift.

By contrast some legally imposed challenges have both practical effects and a need for training. For example 6m (19.5ft) no spray zones are already showing up the difference between the old chemistry that can be used near the water and the much better control from the new chemistry in the body of the field.

If the future brings 1 or 2m buffer zones under the LERAP proposals it will inevitably require more training to make the environmental assessment of low drift applications or wind direction, let alone the way that such narrow no-spray areas can be delivered, notes Mr Redfearn.

"It will mean boom isolation modifications or preferably a grassing down option under set-aside or Countryside Steward-ship," comments Mr Redfearn.

HAVERHOLMEESTATE

&#8226 Heavy land, Sleaford, Lincs.

&#8226 Managed by Velcourt.

&#8226 3 full-time staff.

&#8226 935ha, 828ha arable.

&#8226 Autumn establishment key.

&#8226 High yield target

area ave yield

ha t/ha

w wheat 414 9.25

w barley 169 8.0

w rape 202 3.5

set-aside 39 –

game cover 3 –

* New machinery policy has cut establishment costs by 15%.

High input costs and low grain prices mean this years harvest must be well up on last years to meet 1998 budget – and keep a smile on the face of host farm manager Chris Redfearn.

Despite lower crop values spray inputs have been matched to crop need to maximise yield on the Velcourt-managed farm.

Establishment costs have tumbled 15% since a minimum pass Challenger-based system was invested in. Falling depreciation is now set to take

costs even lower. Better emergence and crop uniformity also resulted.

Above: Ken Shipley, Velcourt Regional Farm director (left) and Chris Redfearn, farm manager looking much happier as an empty rain gauge signals an end to the interminable April showers. Below: Discussing

the additional records and management time that will be needed

now the farm has joined the Assured Combinable Crop Scheme.