31 May 1996


ARABLE farmers can benefit economically from practising Integrated Crop Management (ICM) according to farm business consultants Andersons.

The claim follows the first results from a study commissioned by TSB Agriculture and the Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) project to look at the financial viability of ICM, using a case study of a real arable farm.

The economic model was designed to investigate the full impact of ICM on a LEAF farm in the Cotswolds. By comparing the results of this against non-ICM management systems on farms in the same area, practical ICM is being assessed for the first time, says LEAF co-ordinator Caroline Drummond.

Initial results suggests that the ICM methods adopted by the LEAF case study are integral to good arable management, she says. This has led in this case to higher returns – not necessarily from increased yields, but from reduced input costs. That provides a sustainable profit base to reinvest back into the farm and wildlife, habitat and landscape features, notes Ms Drummond.

The results come at a pertinent time for arable farmers, claims Ian Stockley, head of TSB Agriculture, which has sponsored the project for two years. "Current market prices and existing support policies have been major factors in increasing farm incomes over the past four years.

"But there are clear indications that future support policies could be more closely linked to environmental criteria. There is also the increased need to establish clear traceability along the food chain. Farmers who embrace the ICM concept now will be better prepared and more likely to sustain profit levels in the long term."

The LEAF case study farm, sited on 694ha (1715 acres) of Cotswold brash, shows how economic productivity and environmentally responsible farming can go hand in hand.

Based on a rotation of winter wheat, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape, rye and stubble turnips, the farm manager and his team work hard to ensure the attention to detail required to make ICM work in practice.

The case study reveals that the farms enhanced performance is due to several factors. For example, sound, balanced crop rotations and careful varietal choices have led to reduced pest and disease problems.

Careful choice when reinvesting in machinery has enhanced soil management and crop establishment, reducing energy usage and further decreasing the need for fertiliser and sprays.

"In this situation while investment in machinery has increased, higher depreciation charges have been offset by reductions in running costs, bringing overall machinery costs on the ICM system down compared to that for non-ICM," explains James Miles-Hobbs of Andersons Environmental Services.

"The workforce is now better motivated and will ultimately be better rewarded, increasing labour costs by 5%. The amount spent on training has doubled," he adds.

The overall effect has been that profits for the case study model under ICM for the LEAF Arable Farm are 13% higher than they would have been under a more traditional management regime. Crop output has increased by 3% and variable costs cut by 2%. At the same time the farm is investing in conservation management plans, with the assistance of national grants, in the order of £6700 each year.

Ms Drummond feels the results of the study are an important step forward in encouraging greater uptake of ICM. "Many farmers are genuinely concerned with protecting the environment, reducing risk and adopting safe methods of food production. And many are down the road of more integrated systems. The results of this case study model give a good indication of a healthy economic situation on a working example. We hope many farmers will come and see how this compares to their own farm and visit us at Cereals 96 at the RASE Farm Business Centre and the LEAF stand."

Mr Stockley adds: "In order to persuade farmers to vary their approach, production systems need to be sustainable and profitable in the long term as well as taking account of environmental issues as they become increasingly important. These results demonstrate that ICM is a worth while option for farmers to consider in securing a viable business for the future to meet market requirements." &#42

The development of ICM is not a radical approach, maintains Mr Miles-Hobbs. "It is a realistic one. It aims to combine the best farming practices with effective and optimum use of inputs which produces good crops, while providing environmental benefits for the whole farm."

Despite the positive results so far, Mr Miles-Hobbs warns farmers not to regard ICM as an "off-the-shelf-recipe" which will automatically make all businesses more successful.

"ICM is a whole-farm management system and the particular practices which have been adopted by the LEAF arable farm are specific to that farm. The economic model illustrates how one farm has been able to put ICM into practice while still maintaining profits. It is not a blueprint and producers must adapt the ICM principles to their own farm situation."

A second case study is being carried out to assess a LEAF dairy/arable farm. Initial results will be available at the Royal Show.

What is ICM?

Integrated crop management (ICM) combines the best of traditional farming with responsible use of modern methods to achieve production which is both economically viable and environmentally sensitive. It minimises the use of off-farm inputs, while conserving, enhancing and recreating environmental features.

&#8226 694ha Cotswold brash farm.

&#8226 Profits up 13%.

&#8226 Output up 3%.

&#8226 Variable costs down 2%.

&#8226 Labour costs up 5%.

&#8226 £6700 spent on conservation, with grant aid.

Initial results from an ICM cost study show net profits can increase.

James Miles-Hobbs – overall machinery costs are lower on ICM systems than conventional ones.