5 December 1997

Input focus aids profits

MARKETABLE yield generates 70% of a wheat crops gross output, even with arable area payments. So boost profits by using inputs to raise yields and cut the unit cost of production.

That was the advice Keith Dawson of agrochemicals supplier CSC had for the Crops Scottish conference. "Be careful about cutting back on margin-generating inputs such as nitrogen and fungicides," he warned.

"A wait-and-see approach often turns into a wait-too-long-and-panic situation. And a lack of concrete accountability and liability among some advisers often exacerbates this risk."

Dr Dawson, who runs CSCs CropCare agronomy consultancy for 500 fee-paying clients in Scotland and northern England, advocated a cropping strategy that targets inputs and makes the best use of new technology.

Waiting for a wonder crop is pointless, he argued. Farming crops for short-term subsidies is not viable and most industrial crops on set-aside are uneconomic and often negate set-asides early entry for rape or wheat.

Dr Dawsons plan for action included:

&#8226 Cultivations – minimal cultivations are not without risk and should be used as a rotational tool only. Grain prices must fall further before broadcasting rape and cereals becomes wise.

&#8226 Seed – the thrill of the new is seductive, but many new varieties should not be adopted too early. Take signals from the customer, not the supplier. Genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops are unlikely to cut costs and also face public relations problems.

&#8226 Seed dressings – yield increases from better fusarium control have risen over the years. If home-saving a good seed dressing is still needed, but with question marks over broad spectrum and expensive dressings.

&#8226 Crop nutrition – nitrogen is a key to driving down unit costs. Much time and money has been spent researching optimum N rates, without success. Take account of in-field variation and cut P and K costs through more frequent soil analysis, linked to precision farm techniques.

&#8226 Crop protection – diseases are best tackled at low infection levels, with targeted rates. Trials show a carefully constructed four-spray programme can outperform a two-spray programme at high rates, even with grain at £80/t. Revolutionary new fungicide chemistry is giving a previously unheard of range and duration of control.

&#8226 Application technology – too much spraying is done at high volume. Lower volumes speed turn-around and adjuvants can aid rate cuts, so saving on costs.

CSC CropCares Keith Dawson: inputs pay, so cut them with caution.