5 January 2001

Marketing proves to be dominant factor

Cereals, like Christmas,

comes but once a year. And

with it comes the Lloyds

TSB Farmer Group

Challenge. Teams of growers

vie to produce the top

margin/t of wheat.

Andrew Swallow reports

the results of the Cereals

2000 Nocton contest

MARKETING made the difference between profit and loss for the teams competing in the Cereals 2000 Lloyds TSB Farmer Group Challenge.

Alford Agronomy won with a net margin of £6.04/t (see table) from an 8.8t/ha (3.6t/acre) crop of Malacca. Key to their success was locking in a premium and making milling quality, says team member Peter Pridgeon.

"We all know now we should have sold a year ago last September. But we managed to lock in the milling premium back in May."

After fallbacks for low specific weight, the £15/t premium agreed fell to £11/t. That was paid over a feed base price fixed just before the close of the competition in October at £59/t, resulting a final figure of £70/t for their crop, some £8/t behind budget.

But that was a small discrepancy compared with other teams, as Alford was the only group to achieve 13% protein. An application of Protein Plus, a foliar nitrogen and sulphur mix, at milky-ripe stage was the key, says Mr Pridgeon.

"We always use it at home and you can nearly guarantee +1% on the protein whereas solid sometimes works and sometimes it does not."

On the brash over limestone soils of Nocton Estate solid nitrogen did not appear to boost grain protein levels, judging by the De Montfort University teams results.

"With hindsight we should have used liquid," says the teams Paul Garfoot. "But we thought we could get away with solid at the boot stage because there was plenty of moisture."

Their Malaccas yield matched Alfords at 8.8t/ha, but at 11.93% protein it was too low for more than a slight milling premium.

Sleaford Farmers also grew Malacca, and they too struggled on protein despite using foliar urea. "We applied the urea with the ear spray to save an application cost. Maybe that was the reason for the low protein," suggests the groups Michael Tonge.

Fellow team member David Leech rues the constraints of the competition, as plots could not be cut early allowing teams to gain early delivery bonuses. "We could have got £75/t if we had gone on the day I asked to sell it," he says.

In the end, after £6.25/t of protein allowances and £1 on specific weight, their 12.1% protein Malacca made £65/t on Oct 20.

Protein was Sleaford Farmers and De Montfort Universitys downfall with Malacca, but the Northern LADS crop tripped up on specific weight.

"It was an absolute disaster," says Robert Nelstrop. "68kg/hl ruled out any premium and in the end it went as feed. The margin of -£23/ha makes fairly grim reading. Things might have been different if we had grown Savannah," he says.

On the Edge Farmers did grow that variety, but owing to unexplained severe lodging in all three of their plots, yield results could not be obtained and they withdrew from the contest.

De Montfort Universitys Paul Garfoot saw the damage. "The plots looked like someone had gone up there with a roller," he says.

But other teams pointed to the highest seed rate used, at 350 seeds/sq m, the earliest drilling date of Sept 15, and a nitrogen rate of 212.5kg/ha (170 units/acre) as probable causes.

The Southern LADS were the other team to go down the feed variety route, sowing Equinox on Sept 22 at 175 seeds/sq m. With the top yield of 9.3t/ha (3.8t/acre) and a forward sale in May securing £63/t they produced the highest margin/ha at £55/ha (£22/acre).

But the higher yield diluted the margin/t leaving the Southern LADS in second place. &#42

Alford Agronomy Group lifted the Lloyds TSB Farmer Group Challenge trophy with a margin of £6.04/t. "We certainly were not expecting to win with that," admits Peter Pridgeon (right), seen here receiving the coveted Black Horse trophy from Lloyds TSBs Bruce Clark (left) with fellow team member James Mowbray.

Cereals 2000 Lloyds TSB farmer group challenge results


Team Yield (t/ha) Sales (£/t) Variable costs (£/ha) Profit (£/t)

Alford Agronomy 8.8 70 161 6.04

Southern LADS 9.3 63 138 5.96

De Montfort University 8.8 64 149 0.29

Northern LADS 8.5 63 164 -2.72

Sleaford Farmers 8.4 65 152 -4.80

Note: On the Edge Farmers withdrew from the competition. Operational costs charged according to number and type of passes, overheads imposed at a standard £397.50/ha. Excludes area aid.

CHALLENGE POINTS

&#8226 Marketing key.

&#8226 Yields disappointing.

&#8226 Quality problems widespread.

&#8226 Late foliar N and S valuable.

Strob restraint

None of the teams contravened FRAC or FRAG guidelines on strobilurin use. "We were good boys and used only two applications of the new chemistry," says Alford Agronomys Peter Pridgeon. Landmark (epoxiconazole + kresoxim-methyl) at 0.5 litres/ha went on with 2 litres/ha of chlormequat on Apr 18 followed by 0.6 litres/ha of Amistar (azoxystrobin) and 0.5 litres/ha of Opus (epoxiconazole) on May 24. Folicur (tebuconazole) at 0.25 litres/ha on June 21 completed the programme. "Adding Amistar to the ear spray might have increased the specific weight," he adds.