24 August 2001

OSR – crop & price disappoint

Oilseed rape is not exactly

flavour of the month at Hoe

Hall and winter barley yields

have slipped. But theres

always the wheat to

look forward to.

Robert Harris reports

DISAPPOINTING. Thats how James Keith describes this years oilseed rape crop – and his efforts at selling it.

Although he achieved an average price of £144/t for the 380t of Apex, Madrigal and Escort cut this year, it should have been more, he says. "I sold 250t back in July, for £137/t. Forty-eight hours later, the price shot up to £159/t on the back of a Chicago weather market. Although I sold the balance at that level, that first phone call cost me over £5000."

There was also less rapeseed to sell this season, with arable manager Simon Brocks conservative December forecast of 3.25t/ha (1.3t/acre) proving uncomfortably accurate. "We had no idea how long the wet spell would last. The crop didnt like having wet feet all year, and being host to flocks of pigeons," says Mr Keith.

Pearl winter barley also failed to live up to expectations. The 180ha (445 acres) yielded about 6.5t/ha (2.6t/acre), about 1t/ha below par. "I think we lost a lot of tillers in the wet winter. But screenings are low and nitrogen content is spot on."

Optic spring barley, sown in January, has also been cut. Yields matched Pearls across 77ha (190 acres), slightly above budget. Had it not been for heavy rain, it could have been the crop of the season. "We had a couple of very heavy showers which drove the ears down to the ground. We must have lost 20 ears/sq m in some places. That cut yield by about 0.3t/ha," says Mr Keith.

The price – £80/t for November – is a concern, he adds. "I can get £1/t more for feed wheat. But there is three times as much quality malting barley about than maltsters need, and they are relaxed and they dont have to pay much."

The arable team started combining wheat last week. The first, a crop of Claire off light land following the now defunct conventional pig herd, boded well, hitting 9t/ha (3.6t/acre).

At the weekend, the Claas Lexion 480, in its second year at Hoe Hall, made light work of Madrigal grown on heavier land at the offlying Shipdham Farm. Yield hit 10.75ha (4.35t/acre) across the first 42ha (104 acres). "The variety did very well, giving 1.25t/ha above budget for this ground," says Mr Brock.

Most of the wheat and barley is sold through SEFA, a local grain group, but Mr Keith sells all 200ha (494 acres) of the Shipdham produce. He feels he has done rather better selling wheat than oilseed rape, getting £78/t for 100t of Claire for November movement recently. That matched the price achieved for a similar parcel two months ago. "I then watched the price go up, and sold another 100t for £80/t."

Almost two-thirds of the cereal straw, about 300ha (740 acres), is being left in the swath this year, with most finding local homes. Mr Keith had no trouble selling barley straw at £12.50/acre, and wheat straw for slightly less.

"This is an extraordinary acreage of baled straw for us, but we quite like the income. A lot of our land has had plenty of muck in the past few years, so I dont feel I am robbing the family silver."

Varieties for this autumn will remain largely unchanged, with cropping based on Escort oilseed rape, Pearl barley and Claire wheat. However, Mr Brock is also keen to try some newcomers to the farm, including hybrid rape Royal, to make use of a new, higher input regime planned for the crop. "We have cut back, probably too much. I think yields have suffered as a result." On the wheat front, he plans to try Tanker, as well as fast developer Deben for late drilling in the second wheat slot.

Mr Keith booked the farms entire 370t nitrogen requirement in July. "I couldnt get a sensible quote for liquid N, which normally makes up 90% of our supply. So I went for UK solid instead – we shall spin it on, so I wanted good quality stuff. But manufacturers aim to increase prices month by month, so it seemed right to buy now. I managed to secure a very competitive deal, and I dont have to pay until December."

He has also booked 2000t of pig rations for the 300-sow organic herd, averaging £245/t. "Thats almost 10% less than last year, so that will help."

The herd has been accepted for the pig ongoers scheme, which reduces the interest rate payable on Mr Keiths restructured loan by 5% over two years. "This will be worth a lot of money to the business. It took a day or two in the office to work through the forms, but it proves to have been time well spent," he says. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Swanton Morley Farms, based near Dereham, Norfolk, is an 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 The farm also runs a 300-sow organic pig herd. A 26-cow suckler herd grazes parkland.

&#8226 A number of cottages are let.

&#8226 Farm staff of 7.

Pit stop…fitter Paul Stearman joins driver Simon Owen to test the combines performance after replacing a faulty chopper drive valve. Apart from this, Mr Owen has made rapid progress at Hoe Hall.