7 April 2000

New combine calculated

to reduce harvest costs

The peak spring workload is over at Hoe Hall and

thoughts are now turning to more efficient ways of gathering

the coming harvest. Robert Harris reports

TWO into one will go – just, according to arable manager Simon Brocks latest calculations. So, provided the machinery dealer meets him halfway, a new combine will tackle this years harvest, replacing the four-year-old pair currently on the farm.

The two 24ft cut John Deere 2266s still have plenty of life in them, he says. But the more he went through the figures, the more the idea made sense. The new combine – which Mr Brock is "90% sure" will be a Claas Lexion 480 with 25ft header – is available at 0% finance for three years, for a "competitive" price that includes winter servicing and a full harvest repair package.

Selling the existing machines, which together should make about £95,000, would release valuable capital. The repair bill and depreciation, which amounted to £30,000 last year, will also fall. Add in labour savings and harvesting overheads should come down by £8000 a year, says Mr Brock. "It begins to look like relatively cheap combining."

He admits that the farms 890ha (2200 acres) of combinable crops is asking a lot of one machine. But, given the spread of crops, which include oilseed rape, winter and spring barley, pulses as well as wheat, he believes it can manage.

"My main concern is that barley and oilseed rape may ripen at the same time. But I have spoken to a neighbour who is willing to help out."

Spring work is up to date. The last major operation was drilling sugar beet, which began on Mar 13 and finished four days later. All three varieties – Roberta, Ariana and Duke – are emerging well.

"We had some wonderful dry weather and seed went in beautifully." The only gripe is the amount left over. Mr Brock had intended to plant just over 43ha (106 acres). But, given this years average adjusted yield of 58t/ha (23.5t/acre) and the "dreadful" C beet price of about £2.50/t before haulage allowance, he has cut back.

"Each hectare of C beet lost £273/ha last season. If I had grown wheat, with a gross margin of £600/ha, the farm would have been £5000 better off."

Just 38ha (94 acres) was drilled this time round, which, assuming the crop hits the three-year average yield of 53.5t/ha (22t/acre), should meet the farms 2035t contract. "Fingers crossed we dont have a dry year."

Mr Brock is left with £600 worth of seed. "The British Sugar fieldsman said we would go on the list. But seeing that most growers are cutting back he was effectively telling us to keep it until next season. Sale or return is normally negotiable in the grain seed world. Unfortunately, you cant do that with a monopoly."

Most Regina winter barley has had all its 150kg/ha (120 units/acre) of nitrogen, apart from a small area which will receive it in April. The idea is to try and boost yield while diluting the later nitrogen so the sample will still make malting.

"But we are principally growing for yield. With low nitrogen material now being excluded as well as high, getting a malting sample has become too much of a lottery."

Mr Brock booked all his liquid nitrogen needs before Christmas, when the price was the equivalent of under £80/t delivered. It is now rising, pulled by a sharp jump in the solid market, with UK-produced N now worth at least £105/t and climbing.

"Fertiliser prices are going through the roof. It will be interesting to see where they start next season." Hydros proposed closure of Immingham wont help matters, he adds. "We are all going to pay for the past cheap couple of seasons. Manufacturers couldnt sustain those prices. Something had to give."

Now that the peak spring workload has passed, staff are tackling Countryside Stewardship Scheme work. "We may have to pay more overtime for a while," says Mr Brock, though other estate staff are also helping out. "But there will be savings eventually. We will only cut hedges once every five years, and we may get rid of the hedgecutter and contract the job out."

So far, about 1.5km of hedge has been coppiced and the gaps planted, mainly with hawthorn. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Swanton Morley Farms, based near Dereham, Norfolk, is a 890ha (2200 acres) largely arable unit managed as a family partnership by James Keith, his wife, Victoria, and mother, Penelope.

&#8226 Arable crops cover 90% of the unit. Wheat grown on medium sandy loam soil goes as feed. Barley goes for malting. Sugar beet is also grown. A further 182ha (450 acres) is contract farmed locally.

&#8226 There are two outdoor pig herds; 550-sow conventional and 140-sow organic. Growers are taken to bacon weight in straw yards. A 26-cow suckler herd grazes parkland. Red deer calves are also finished.

&#8226 A number of cottages are let.

&#8226 Farm staff of 12.