15 June 2001

Operations merger gains full marks in first test

The operations merger, which includes

Conyboro Farms and six other Sentry sites in the area,

is up and running. Suzie Horne reports

MAIZE drilling at Conyboro was the first field operation to be tackled by the combined team of Sentry Sussex, the merged arable operation of seven Sentry sites covering 1133ha (2800 acres) in Surrey and Sussex.

The aim is to save costs through more effective machinery use and to improve timeliness – and it seems to be working.

The four-strong team took 48.5ha (120 acres) of maize land from ploughed ground to drilled, fertilised and sprayed seed-beds in four consecutive days. "It would have taken us a week by ourselves," says manager Duncan Rawson.

"The team was very focused and enthusiastic. The only hitch was a blow-out on the ring rollers, but we borrowed another set to keep us going.

"The majority – 90% – of the maize went in well, but there are cloddy patches and it is desperately in need of water. I would like to put the second nitrogen on, but it needs rain first."

Mr Rawson is aiming for repair costs of £35/ha (£14/acre) or less this year, compared with the average across all Sentry farms of £49/ha (£19.80/acre) last year. Labour costs should fall to £155/ha (£62.70/acre) from £180/ha (£72.80/acre).

Good machinery planning will be a big part of the success of the merged operation. The hired Challenger 55 must do more than 1000 hours to justify its cost and the Maxicare maintenance plan. For example, at 750 hours/year, it will cost £23/hour. At 1250 hours, the rate drops to £16/hour.

Final cropping at Conyboro includes 93ha (231 acres) of wheat, split between Claire and Malacca, 21.6ha (53.5 acres) of barley, 40ha (100 acres) of peas, and slightly more of maize. Just 24.3ha (60 acres) of spring rape was drilled, leaving the farm with a set-aside area of 98ha (242 acres) compared with 28ha (70 acres) last year.

These changes, and further reductions in forecasted yields, are largely responsible for an expected fall in arable income of £50,000, even more than previously predicted. But dairy income has also been revised because milk price forecasts have increased again, and it should still offset the arable shortfall.

"With a fair wind, we can just make a profit this year," says Mr Rawson. Wheat budgets have already been dented by higher-than-planned spending on herbicides because spraying was delayed until late spring, and then chemicals had to go on at full rate. Fungicide spend, however, is on target.

Peas will also bust the herbicide budget because full rate Bullet was not effective and the crop will have to be over-sprayed. Other than this, the crop looks reasonable, says Mr Rawson.

"Wheats have had a flag leaf spray and are now due an earwash. The Malacca had 0.5 litres/ha of Amistar and the same amount of Opus." Ensign replaced Amistar on the best Claire, while poorer crops received 0.5 litres/ha of Opus.

"Earwash sprays will be based on Folicur, at 0.25 or 0.3 litres/ha. I have yet to decide on the rate, but there is very little disease pressure."

First-cut silage was made in the second week of May. Although it is very wet, Mr Rawson is pleased with output. "Its probably yielded 7-8t/acre and sugars should be good."

Finings (fertiliser factory sweepings) were spread on all aftermaths at a cost of around £30/ha (£12/acre). This was done by supplier Bunns and Mr Rawson is so pleased with the cost and efficiency of the operation that he is considering putting finings on stubbles, especially before rape.

"Bunns can spread 300 acres/day and although you dont get an analysis, it is cheap and effective NPK. We took a view on the likely content and topped up with urea on the aftermaths.

"Im even considering using it for the wheats this autumn. It would deliver P and K and give it a kick with the nitrogen too. At that price its giving you an operation that is effectively free." &#42

Joining forces… Lock Farm manager Alister Farr (left), trainee manager Chris Preston (centre) and Duncan Rawson are predicting lower costs and improved timeliness after merging arable operations.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Conyboro Farms, in East Sussex, a 405ha (1002 acre) arable and dairy unit, farmed on five-year contract by Sentry Farms.

&#8226 Land is mainly weald clay with a small strip of greensand.

&#8226 Arable crops -all first wheats this season, also winter beans, peas, oats.

&#8226 230-cow dairy, yielding 7696 litres a cow in year to April 2000.

&#8226 Calving mainly June to September. Total dairy forage area of 122ha (302 acres).

&#8226 Five full-time staff, including manager.

&#8226 Arable operations merged with other Sentry farms covering 1133ha (2800 acres).