6 December 1996

Plenty of room to improve profitability

RESULTS from costed wheat plots at Cereals 96 show many growers have room to slash inputs and improve profitability.

"There is a real need to re-examine the whole way we approach crop management," Philip Wynn, managing director of Aubourn Farming, told the conference. He predicted a fall in net profits of £110,000 for a 400ha (1000-acre) farm by 2000.

Pulling down the production costs a tonne was vital to improve efficiency, he said. A 1995 Lincs survey showed that the top 25% produced wheat at £88/t, compared with £132/t for the bottom 25%.

Results from Aubourn Farmings cost of production plots on the light limestone Lincoln Heath soils at Cereals 96 showed what sort of savings could be made.

The aim was to treat plots with £148, £198 and £247/ha (£60, £80 and £100/acre) worth of inputs. A managed plot was also included.

The low disease year saw savings all round. Spend on the cheapest plot actually came to £114 (£46/acre). No dressing was used on the home-grown Riband seed, which had been tested for fusarium and germination. It was drilled at 170 seeds/sq m.

No P or K fertiliser was used thanks to satisfactory soil indices. A total of 180kg (144 units/acre) of nitrogen was applied in two splits, the first in early March and the second five weeks later.

Low rate

Javelin Gold (IPU + diflufenican) was applied at 1 litre/ha. Two low rate managed fungicides were applied. Yield was 8t/ha (3.25t/acre).

On the £198 plot, actual costs were £131/ha (£53/acre). Home-saved Brigadier, dressed with Sibutol (bitertanol + fuberidazole), a higher 250 seeds/sq m rate and trifluralin to kill poppies accounted for most of the extra spend. Yield was 8.1t/ha (3.27t/acre).

The high input plot cost £212/ha (£86/acre). Bought-in Brigadier was dressed with Sibutol, and drilled at 375 seed/sq m. 11% more N was applied in three splits.

Javelin Gold was raised to 2.5 litres/ha. A conventional three-spray fungicide approach was applied. Chlormequat growth regulator was used early, followed by Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl). Yield rose to 8.6t/ha (3.48t/acre).

The final managed plot cost £151/ha (£61/acre). Home-saved Brigadier was tested and sown undressed at 200 seeds/sq m. N was applied in two splits making a total of 200kg/ha (160 units/acre). Javelin Gold was applied at 1.5 litres/ha.

Opus fungicide was applied in a repeat low dose system – five sprays of 0.15 litres/ha each. An early growth regulator was applied. Yield hit 8.74t/ha (3.54t/acre).

Cost a tonne varied from £71 for the managed plot to £79 for the high input plot, a difference of nearly £60/ha (£24/acre). The other two plots cost £73-74/acre.

Clear trends

"The plots were not replicated but they indicate very clear trends which correlate closely with our farm trials," said Mr Wynn.

"This was a light land site in a relatively low disease year. But we have to ask how many farms spent in excess of £110/acre – a typical figure – without any increase in yield on similar soils and within the same geographical area?"n