30 January 1999

LOW COST FINALISTS ON A ROLL

A tax-free £1,000 tonic awaits the ultimate winner of our contest to find the UKs World Class wheat growers. Here we introduce the seven short-listed entrants.

WHAT does it take to grow winter wheat at world market prices? Is it all down to maximum yield, or minimal establishment costs, or parsimony with spray and fertiliser inputs?

That is what we aim to find out in this exclusive Crops competition in co-operation with Advanta Seeds and ADAS. The answer could be all of the above, or something completely different, because the seven-strong short-list chosen by our judges represent widely-varying approaches to the business of growing cereals, and, on differing soil types.

All have previously shown their mettle in growing wheat at an economic cost. Their systems have been honed to their particular circumstances but we are sure other Crops readers will learn from how they go about growing winter wheat at the lowest cost of production in 1998-99.

When the department of land economics at Cambridge University carried out its assessment of wheat production costs for the 1997 harvest, it came up with an average UK figure of £98.80/t – not good enough when most pundits expect a five-year average wheat price of £85-90/t.

Estimated budget

Our short-list has been asked to nominate a field of winter wheat, of their chosen variety, and submit an estimated budget for their growing system in 1998-99. They will be noting all their costs from establishment through to harvest and submitting evidence of these to the judges. The £1,000 top prize put up by Advanta Seeds will go to the grower who, in the judges estimation, has succeeded at the lowest possible production cost per tonne.

Further prizes will be awarded to entrants who have demonstrated growing excellence beyond normal expectations for their soil type or growing conditions.

The fields which will be scrutinised vary from light sand in Staffordshire, through Essex chalky boulder clay to silty loams in Norfolk and Essex. The choice of wheat variety varies from the familiar feed wheat Riband to the upstart high yielding Equinox. Gordon and Mary Davison, of Pry Rigg Farm, Sproxton near York, have opted for milling wheat, Hereward, after oilseed rape with very low budgeted spray costs of just £25/ha (£10/acre).

Their 68ha (168-acre) holding is the smallest of any finalist. Further up the size scale, Aldborough Farms in Norfolk has entered 13ha (32 acres) of Equinox from its 553ha (1,370 acres). With budgeted spray costs five times those of the Davisons but potentially 50% greater yield, the scene is set for a fascinating comparison.

John Garstang, of ADAS and one of the judges, welcomes the variety of systems on the short-list but predicts the outcome will depend on one key factor. "I believe the outcome will make the point quite clearly about yield and maintaining that yield."

Benchmarks

Actual spray and fertiliser costs for each entrant will be used in the contest but seed costs will be set at the average market price for the nominated variety on 1 September 1999, while machinery costs will be calculated from those in the 1999 Farm Management Pocketbook by John Nix. A benchmark for a nominal land rental charge will be set according to soil grade by ADAS.

The assessment of fixed costs for each entrant will be made using the ADAS business performance index (BPI) as a measure of economic efficiency.


Soil Variety 1994-98 Estimated Estimated

type average fertiliser spray costs

wheat yield cost (ha) (ha) based

(t/ha) on 1998

Robin Bartleet, Abrahams Farm, Great Tey, Essex

Silt loam Riband 8.7 81.50 136.25

Tony Bradley, Southley Farm, Overton, Hants

Downland Consort 7.9 47.33 142.90

with clay cap

Richard Bruce-White, Manor Farm, Winterbourne, Gunner, Wilts

Andover series Consort 8.52 101.50 132.15

G & M Davison, Pry Rigg Farm, Sproxton, N. Yorks

Sandy loam Hereward 6.8 43 24.92

M J Hammond, Aldborough Farms, Norfolk

Fine sandy Equinox 9.5 65 132

loam

George Scales, Scales (Farms) Ongar, Essex

Chalky boulder Maris 5.1 34 N/A

clay Huntsman

Colin Swinnerton, Elms Farm, Warton, Staffs

Light sand Rialto 8 87 132.35

Note: Fertiliser and spray estimates are based on 1997-1998 experience and costings.