3 August 2001

Rotation plans geared to offset vining pea loss

Losing a lucrative pea

contract will dent arable

income at Cansdale where

management on all

enterprises is under scrutiny.

Simon Wragg reports

CROPPING plans lie open on the farm office desk, the first sign that next years rotation is already under review before harvest has begun.

For some months, the vining pea growers group has been concerned about moving crop from the farm to the processors factory at Grimsby within a tight time frame, a trip of 60 miles using the Humber Bridge.

"We have lost that contract on the grounds of our land being too rough in places and too far away in general," says owner John Sleightholme.

Although Westfield Farm, Cansdales sister unit, is 15 minutes closer to the plant and retains its contract, it will inevitability be questioned. "We normally have about 45 acres down each season giving a margin of £192/acre. Losing that will hit arable income severely."

Using budgets supplied by the farms arable contractor, JSR, and Cansdales yield data, Mr Sleightholme and his mother, Elizabeth, have begun planning next years rotation in a bid to regain the lost income. "We question whether it is worth pursuing milling and biscuit wheat. Last years crops struggled to achieve the right quality and, as a result, sold for an average of £74.72/t. In comparison feed wheat had a higher yield and averaged £78/t."

Although a cropping scheme is far from complete, early drafts suggest dropping second wheat and increasing the area of pulses. Winter beans for seed are a likely contender, offering a margin of £464/ha (£188/acre) if JSRs predictions on yields and sales are achieved.

The review has also focused attention on the relationship between the farm and the contracting company. "We are in no doubt that JSR delivers financial benefits that we could not achieve with just 340 acres of arable ground.

"But we cant derogate our responsibility for the crops completely. We rely on the arable income and must keep abreast of how crops are progressing and whether they are within budget. If we can help JSR with that it will benefit both parties."

So far this season, growing costs have stayed close to budget, although conditions were less than satisfactory.

Chemical budgets for Equinox first wheat were set at £104/ha (£42/acre). Despite countering two attacks by slugs and applying an early treatment to combat eyespot on top of the normal spray programme, actual costs were contained to £111/ha (£45/acre).

Elsewhere, using pig slurry on some areas trimmed fertiliser costs, cutting the overall nutrient budget for cereals from a predicted £42/ha (£17/acre) to just £28.42/ha (£11.50/acre).

"On the whole the crops look extremely good. We can only hope harvest yields will equal, if not better, last years results," says Mr Sleightholme.

Another boost came with the final tally for sales of Saturna crisping potatoes. Although yields undershot the 32t/ha (13t/acre) target for marketable quality out of store by 2t/ha, income still beat expectations.

"The final price achieved was £130.61/t, which brought in £39,511, £7388 above budget and a good result. Lets hope the 2in of rain that have fallen since we last reported help this years crop to do well on our unirrigated land."

But there is little room for complacency. The Sleightholmes are keeping a close eye on performance in the pig and broiler units. Staffing has been stretched making daily life on the pig units uncomfortable.

The unit at Westfield is still coping with the pig wasting disease PMWS, where mortality is hovering around 12% against a target of 3%. About nine pigs a week are being lost.

The disease has also impaired growth rates, extending finishing times by up to three weeks compared with the unit at Cansdale.

"We have replaced one member of the Westfield pig staff who left. We now want to encourage members of the team to concentrate on their specialist area of the unit. Attention to every detail of production is the only way to overcome the wasting disease," says Mr Sleightholme.

Workloads should also be more bearable after 540 growers were moved from the units to a contract finisher. The contractor will be paid £5 a pig for each baconer reaching an average of 98kg liveweight, and is expected to provide straw, water and labour.

"The good news is that we have been accepted into the pig industry ongoers scheme which will help cover some of the interest payments on the business loan. It took a lot of effort to get the 98-page document ready, but it will pay dividends in future," says Mrs Sleightholme.

Although the 30,000-bird broiler unit can normally be relied upon to generate a reasonable return, the latest crop has been disappointing.

A blocked pipe in the feed blender went unnoticed, which increased the proportion of wheat fed in broiler diets. Margins suffered by £2064 (see table). "Extra wheat had a detrimental effect on food conversion and body weight," says Mr Sleightholme.

The experience reinforces the Sleightholmes determination to scrutinise all farm performance figures to safeguard income. &#42

Broiler results (Cansdale 30,000-bird unit)

Ave age Weight Wheat in Mortality Margin over

(days) (kg) feed (%) (%) feed+chick (p/bird)

Latest crop 46.16 2.54 22 4.22 26.64

Previous crop 47.63 2.89 12 5.21 33.52

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Westfield and Cansdale Farm, a 140ha (350 acre) largely arable unit on the east of the Yorks Wolds, farmed by John Sleightholme and his mother, Elizabeth. Both units are family-owned.

&#8226 The land is mainly chalk-based loam with small areas of underlying clay and gravel.

&#8226 Main arable crop is winter wheat. Potatoes and vining peas are also grown.

&#8226 All arable duties contracted out to neighbouring estate. Family buys inputs and decides where produce sold.

&#8226 Three indoor pig herds of 270, 330 and 600 sows selling progeny via contract finishers to local processors.

&#8226 A 30,000 broiler enterprise rearing birds from chicks through to 7.75lb liveweight. Sold to supermarkets via Grampian Country Foods.

&#8226 Farm staff of 11 on pigs and one man on broiler unit.