2 January 1998

Think rotation this spring

Spring crops may be the

poor relations of their

autumn-sown cousins, but

correct seed choice is no

less important for maximum

reward. This special focus

aims to help growers

make the best selections of

both varieties and dressings.

Suzie Horne opens by

looking at the economics of

competing options. Edited

by Andrew Blake

GROWERS need to think further ahead than the 1998 harvest when planning cropping for this spring.

The prospect of the Agenda 2000 reforms reducing support for break crops means that while it may make financial sense this season to keep up the proportion of breaks in the run-up to the reforms, it may also pay in years to come.

This way growers will not be left with too many second and third wheats when the reforms hit, explains Andrew Mason of Sentry Farming. With so much land having been put into cereals this autumn, there is a risk that the breaks area will already be down on many farms.

Malting barley remains risky unless growers are on the very best land and can guarantee a good malting quality, he says. "You have to see if you are getting a sensible margin from it, especially if you could grow a break."

On more marginal land, many would be better off reducing their risk and gain from having the cereal break, he maintains.

David Bolton of farm business consultant Andersons predicted some of the lowest margins last year. Even so he was caught out by the extent to which commodity prices fell.

While acknowledging that all crop prices will be lower again this year, he says best gross margins will come from spring oilseed rape and beans for those producers who have secure premium end users for their crops.

There will be benefits from lower variable costs for growers who have bought fertiliser well, says Mr Bolton. "There could well be further price reductions in spring agrochemicals because manufacturers have not tightened supplies in order to firm prices for herbicides," he says.

With many growers having been put off malting barley by both the poor quality of the 1997 crop and the attitude of maltsters in the past couple of seasons, Dalgetys David Neale expects the availability of malting varieties to be down at harvest.

In the absence of clear price indications from the trade, growers are going for malting barleys that will give them the yield option, he says.

Quality pulses

Dalgetys national oilseeds and pulses manager Julie Goult has seen a lot of interest in quality pulses with growers looking for contracts that give a premium.

While most demand has come from growers, traders are also keen to secure supplies, offering about £10/t over feed pea prices for micronising compared with up to £20 last season. Marrowfats with no waste or stain could be worth up to £60/t over feed, while most growers achieving human consumption for these types can expect £45-£50/t above feed.

In Scotland, spring rape is taking acreage away from the traditional spring choice of malting barley because growers are dissatisfied with that market.

While rape may be subject to a further 10% cut in area aid next year, linseed will not suffer in this way and also enjoys a strong market for its oil, bringing margins closer to those of oilseed rape, says Ms Goult.

Ian Finlay of ADAS Gleadthorpe supports the view that cereals for human consumption should only be first choice where yield and quality can be relied upon.

Otherwise, growers should protect returns with a break crop offering a higher rate of area aid and less drought risk, says business management consultant Mr Finlay.

"This is likely to be spring peas, which has a comparable gross margin to other breaks but has the additional advantage of returning nitrogen to the soil, although linseed and rape are still worthy of consideration."

Growers looking at industrial crop options for set-aside land should not include the set-aside payment in their gross margin calculation, as this will be paid whether they crop the land or not, he notes.

Reviewing 1997 predictions, Rachel Potter of Strutt & Parker recalls that seed-bed quality was an important factor, especially in areas which did not get enough rain. Many crops were relatively cheap to grow, but malting barley quality varied widely.

For 1998, Ms Potter echoes Mr Masons caution over keeping the proportion of break crops at a sensible level.

Seed contracts may offer premium markets in some cases, with opportunities being sought for crops such as spring linseed seed to be grown on land which has not previously carried the crop.

"The edible linseed linola may be a useful alternative, getting the oilseed rape price and the linseed area aid." Sunflowers are another option, but site is important – it must be free of the potential for waterlogging in case of delayed harvest, warns Ms Potter.

"Remember the practicalities. Aim for a spread of harvest dates but dont forget any limitations on storage. It is becoming increasingly important that separate storage is available for different varieties and that storage is of an acceptable quality."

Which spring crop will make you the most money in 1998 may not be the key question this spring. Rotations need consideration, too.

SPECIAL SUMMARY

&#8226 The economic arguments p41.

&#8226 Cereal variety choices p42.

&#8226 Pea and bean selections p43.

&#8226 Oilseeds options p44.

&#8226 Seed treatments p45.

&#8226 Scottish malting scene p46.

Gross margin estimates for spring crops in 1998- £/ha

BarleyBarleyWheatOSROSRLinsdLinsdPeas Beans

(malt)(feed)(mill)(conv)(ind)(conv)(ind)

ADAS*65058061252780*54154*540497

Andersons487493490622467549262535620

Dalgety626–694526582370697672

Sentry705–605-662-717679

Strutt &

Parker682-631661-597-610596

Average631537578622497586316620613

(Last year745628724640434620384625626)

&#8226 ADAS figures for industrial cropping do not include area payment (see text), and so are not included in average for these crops.


BarleyBarleyWheatOSROSRLinsdLinsdPeas Beans

(malt)(feed)(mill)(conv)(ind)(conv)(ind)

ADAS*65058061252780*54154*540497

Andersons487493490622467549262535620

Dalgety626–694526582370697672

Sentry705–605-662-717679

Strutt &

Parker682-631661-597-610596

Average631537578622497586316620613

(Last year745628724640434620384625626)

&#8226 ADAS figures for industrial cropping do not include area payment (see text), and so are not included in average for these crops.