19 November 1999

ICM means more margin for growers, says panel

By Andrew Swallow

PROFIT can be improved by pursuing Integrated Crop Management policies, especially at todays lower grain prices, delegates at last weeks Integrated Arable Crop Production Alliance roadshow were told.

"Profit from the integrated system is greater, and the incentive grows as grain prices fall," CWSs Alistair Leake told delegates at Caythorpe, Lincs, during the second "Farming Dilemma" conference organised by IACPA, an association of seven organisations working on integrated farming and crop management techniques in the UK.

But to achieve such gains, growers must learn to accept slightly lower yields, he warned.

"That is one of the biggest problems that has to be overcome – it requires a completely new mindset. But if farmers look at the extent of yield decrease under ICM systems, it is far less than the variation seen between fields on a farm, or from one season to another," he pointed out.

That claim was backed up with figures from the firms farm at Stoughton, in Leics (see table). Winter wheat net margin from crops grown under ICM principals in 1998 was £65/ha (£26/acre) higher, calculated at todays grain price of £67/t.

Figures for 1999 are not yet available, but ICM will still be ahead, albeit not so much, he reckoned. "The difference is less because the conventional side of the farm is learning from the integrated system."

Pooled results obtained from nine sites involved in the IACPA project show an average cost reduction from ICM over conventional systems averaging £52/ha (£21/acre). Only seed cost was increased, due to higher seed-rates to compensate for later drilling and slug attacks.

Cultivation costs were cut by an average £20/ha (£8/acre) through more use of non-inversion tillage systems, and fungicides by £18/ha (£7/acre), a reduction of 42% on total fungicide spending.

But getting the most from an ICM policy does require greater knowledge on farm, he said.

"It is a knowledge intensive system. Unless you understand the different factors at work and how they interact it is difficult to make it work."

Growers have to pick and mix policies to suit their farms, and accept that an ICM approach may entail an increased risk, rather than a reliance on chemicals, he added.

For example, while spring cropping had desirable environmental benefits, for many farms its introduction was inappropriate.

However, an extension of the Arable Stewardship Pilot Scheme, which includes compensatory payments for the lower returns of spring cropping, would change that, he concluded.

lThe IACPA roadshows, supported by MAFF and FW, continue next week in Hants (Wed 24). Tel MAFF: 0207-921 1158. &#42

W wheat ICM v conventional

CWS Stoughton 1998

ICM Conv

Output t/ha 7.41 8.06

£/ha @ £67/t 496 540

Variable Costs (£/ha)

Seed 35 37

Fertiliser 76 73

Crop protection 80 154

Total 191 264

Gross margin (£/ha) 305 276

Operational costs (£/ha)

Fertiliser 31 21

Crop protection 10 30

Cultivation & harvest 127 152

Total 168 203

Net Margin 138 73