10 May 2002

Pearl, jewel in the crown

AMONG the combinable crops harvested at Easton Lodge last year, Pearl winter barley appears to be the jewel in the crown as far as gross margin is concerned.

Having moved the last of the crop out of store in April we are now in a position to assess the gross margin in detail and to compare harvest 2001 with 2000 (table 1).

We sold 171.96t off 19.83ha (49 acres) to give us a yield of 8.67t/ha (3.5t/acre). The crop was on contract to Gowlett Grain near Cambridge and since it came within the malting specification commanded a premium of £8/t selling at £71.84/t, net of levies and weighbridge charges. A little less than 25% was sold at harvest, leaving the bulk in store over winter having sold forward which fortunately protected our price.

Once again, we have been able to enhance our output by selling barley straw to our pig unit. In all, just under 100t was baled, carted and stacked for £25/t adding to our gross margin.

In 2000 we were still growing Maris Otter which failed to attract the malting premium that year and with a yield disadvantage of 2t/ha (0.8t/acre) compared to Pearl and a sale price of £73/t, the output was well below our forecast. Indeed, it was this experience having grown Maris Otter for three years that persuaded me it was time for a change. Whether or not we are experiencing beginners luck with Pearl, only time will tell. But for barley to knock both wheat and oilseed rape into second and third places in our gross margin league table is unusual.

Savings in variable costs have also been achieved with reductions in seed, fertiliser and spray costs. Although seed rate increased with Pearl, the cost/tonne came down by over £100 which has given us a significant saving. Nitrogen costs increased for two reasons: First, urea shot up in price from £75/t in 1999 to £123/t in 2001. Second, since our target grain nitrogen for Pearl was higher than Maris Otter, we could afford to apply more fertiliser to achieve a better yield while still remaining in the premium band for malting quality.

Significant to the production costs was the inclusion of potash and phosphate for the 2000 crop which soil analyses showed the need for maintenance dressings but not required for 2001 due to liberal amounts of FYM applied previously in the rotation.

Moving on to sprays, the saving of £25/ha (£10/acre) for growing Pearl is almost entirely due to less reliance on fungicide. Maris Otter being agronomically inferior to modern varieties, tends to succumb to all the major diseases and was sprayed five times with various fungicides between November and May, compared with three applications for Pearl in March, April and May.

The net result on variable costs was a reduction of 28% year on year and a gross margin improvement of 30% in a year when good results were much needed.

The performance of other combinable crops for last harvest, harvest 2000 as well as for the five year average appear in tables 2 and 3. Actual figures are available for all crops with the exception of wheat for harvest 2001 which has been estimated since around 75% is still in store and 38% unsold. &#42

Between the showers, Easton Lodge foreman David Cham sprays magnesium sulphate on to Malacca winter wheat at the beginning of May.


2001 – 19.83ha 2000 – 25.64ha

(ha) (Total) (ha) (Total)

Yield (t) 8.67 171.96 6.60 169.12

Output (£)

Grain 623.00 12,354.05 482.97 12,383.32

Straw 122.87 2436.50 127.73 3275.00

Area aid 217.74 4317.77 220.96 5665.41

Total 963.61 19,108.32 831.66 21,323.73

Variable costs (£)

Seed 40.66 806.20 52.26 1340.00

Fertiliser

Nitrogen 31.82 630.92 21.75 557.71

Compound – – 31.36 804.16

Sprays

Herbicides 13.75 272.58 11.97 306.94

Fungicides 40.98 812.64 69.56 1783.51

Insecticides 0.62 12.29 1.41 36.03

Adjuvants 5.09 101.00 4.20 107.63

Trace elements 3.65 72.40 3.67 94.05

Growth regs 12.67 251.15 11.29 289.60

Total 149.23 2959.18 207.47 5319.64

Gross margin (£) 814.38 16,149.14 624.18 16,004.10


Harvest Harvest Five-year 2001 2000 average

Yield t/ha Yield t/ha Yield t/ha

Wheat 7.96* 9.05 8.84

Barley 8.67 6.60 6.77

OSR 4.29 3.87 3.97

Peas 2.84 4.59 3.91

* Estimated.


2001 2000 5-year ave

£/ha £/ha £/ha

Wheat 730* 803 800

Barley 814 625 718

OSR 749 632 747

Peas 427 781 716

*Estimated