12 April 2002

Management changes can lift wheat profits

By Andrew Swallow

FINDINGS from nearly £1m of HGCA-funded research into wheat management could have boosted profit on a typical East Anglian farm by £4.44/t, a new study suggests.

In the Scottish Borders the gain would be £2.34/t, according to results from the independent study commissioned by the HGCA.

That equates to an extra £8344/year and £1895/year on holdings of 500ha (1235 acres) and 250ha (620 acres) respectively, assuming likely rotations, say report authors Sebastian Graff-Baker of Andersons and Brian Redrup of Velcourt.

But the extent to which the findings have been taken up by growers is unknown.

The study shows levy payers are getting value for money, maintains HGCA chief executive Paul Biscoe. "Even £2.30/t on 40p represents good value."

The figures were generated by applying the benefits seen from using new techniques in trials to two model farms (see panel).

One £236,000 three-year programme run from October 1996 looked at optimum plant populations in winter wheat. The other, costing £683,000, consolidates the findings of previous work on the interaction of wheat variety with sowing date, rotational position and canopy management.

Top result for wheat growers came from work on optimising fungicide dose and nutrient status, generating an extra £1.84/t in East Anglia and £1.64/t in the Borders.

Seed rate and plant population work also benefited both regions. But matching variety to sowing date and rotational position was only deemed a benefit in East Anglia, where second wheat and first wheat after sugar beet means later-drilling (see table).

Mr Redrup says that the calculations take into account any extra costs.

"It is not all good news. If you decrease seed rate you can expect an increase in herbicide costs, for example, especially in the spring as broad-leaved weeds will be more of a problem in the less dense crops." &#42

Model farms

The East Anglian model is based on a 500ha holding with permanent set-aside, growing two years of wheat, a winter barley, then either oilseed rape or sugar beet. For the Borders the calculations are based on a 250ha farm with a rotation of winter wheat, winter barley, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat, then spring beans.


Action Return (£/t)

East Anglia Borders

Variety/sowing date match 0.24 N/A

Variety/rotation/soil match 1.33 N/A

Fungicide dose & nutrient status 1.84 1.64

Seed rate/optimum population 1.03 0.70

Total value added 4.44 2.34