12 May 2000

Joint effort answers needs

In the second of our series of articles looking at key issues

facing arable farmers Andrew Blake examines how several

growers in the west are improving their spraying operations

THE combined efforts of an ADAS agronomist and a local spray contractor are ensuring a group of Glos milk producers arable crops get as good attention as those on larger specialist arable units, according to Richard Watts, arable chairman of Severnside Dairy and Arable Farmers (SEDAF).

The 15-strong group started life in 1985 as a discussion group to compare prices. Today its eight arable members have about 565ha (1400 acres) of crops and total turnover, including dairy inputs, exceeds £1m.

Most members have machinery for growing maize and grass, says Mr Watts. "But only three are really kitted up for arable, while many of us use contractors for combining and spraying."

Even with the recent ending of a Farm Business Tenancy which forced the sale of all his cows, his 90ha (223 acres) at Saul Farm, Saul, now all-arable, could not justify buying a sprayer.

Instead, along with five other members, he relies on local contractor Paul Wheeler for timely applications. "He is a very good operator with low ground pressure spraying and fertilising tackle. Anyone with oilseed rape always ends up using him for desiccation.

"But when we all looked at our spray costs we found they varied tremendously. You can get free crop walking services from spraying companies. But some products, such as Roundup, can then be very dear.

"Now nine of our 15 members belong to the ADAS Direct buying group, and I reckon our saving on chemicals more than pays for the cost of the crop walking."

Carrying out that task at least once a fortnight and liaising with Mr Wheeler is ADAS agronomy consultant Leanne Smith. "I can blend the needs of several farms together so we can get spray timings better."

"Leanne co-ordinates all the spraying so everyone feels they are getting a better crack of the whip," says Mr Watts. No individual receives preferential treatment.

The new arrangement, guaranteeing payment by the end of the month on all invoices arriving before the 11th, also suits ADAS. "It makes it simpler for us because we only have to go to one source," says Dr Smith.

But the ADAS input goes beyond spraying. "It is all about a package of information, quality of advice and back up," says Mr Watts.

"For example, I also get fertiliser advice. And ADAS issues a useful bulletin showing the spread of development in wheat varieties. It helped me choose the right mix and drilling dates which should help at harvest." Rialtos rapid development was deemed particularly useful for sowing after 28ha (70 acres) of unwanted maize for silage was snapped up by neighbours last November.

"As my father used to say: Take all the advice you can and then please yourself. You do not have to take advice, but be informed. A little knowledge is very dangerous."

Discussion meetings

"I send out individual SEDAF newsletters. It only takes a few minutes typing in the office," says Dr Smith. Monthly discussion meetings on specific topics are also held.

Already Mr Watts has modified his approach to wheat drilling as a result. "We sowed a lot earlier than our usual Oct 7-10 and used only 1cwt/acre instead of our normal 1.25. It will be interesting to see what that may have done to yield."

"ADAS as a group is not just about crop walking," says Dr Smith. "I am part of an organisation covering nearly every technical aspect of agriculture. If Richard suddenly wants to grow lupins or soya I am sure one of our 120 or so arable consultants will have experience of them which I can pass on."

Total cost of the ADAS husbandry service is £12.97/ha (£5.25/acre) and £9.88/ha (£4/acre) for winter and spring crops respectively with an extra £1.85 (75p/acre) to belong to ADAS Direct. &#42

SEDAF/ADAS LINK

&#8226 Co-ordinated arable management.

&#8226 Single spray contractor.

&#8226 Buying group savings.

&#8226 Widespread crop advice.

Amalgamating the spraying needs of Richard Watts and other SEDAF members allows ADASs Leanne Smith to offer better overall crop protection to the group.

PLAN YOUR DAY

Cereals 2000 is the key event for farmers wanting to improve their arable businesses. It hosts a range of experts, all equipped to solve your business and technical queries. But where do you start?

To help focus on the main issues farmers weekly is taking a closer look at five main factors affecting arable farmers. Over the coming weeks we will address:

&#8226 Farm strategy.

&#8226 Cost management.

&#8226 Improved production.

&#8226 Better marketing.

&#8226 Environmental awareness.

These topics will be further examined in the official Cereals 2000 event guide in farmers weekly on June 2. At the event itself staff in the Plan Your Day area will be on hand near the entrance to ensure you get the most from your visit.

The Plan Your Day feature is supported by RASE, ADAS, HGCA, Morley Research Centre and farmers weekly.