26 February 1999

Time for a serious rethink

It cant get any worse advised farmers weeklys autumn Arable Focus supple-ment. How wrong it was. Dire winter weather, plunging rape prices, £70/t wheat, costly catch-up herbicides and struggling crop establishment have all conspired to give 1999 the worst possible start.

Soaring spud seed prices, leached nitrogen reserves and runaway demand for spring break-crop seed only deepen the gloom. Add the uncertainty surrounding Agenda 2000 CAP reforms and shaky export markets and 1999s miserable prospects are complete.

With so many factors set to depress farm income what hope is there for maintaining profits? Waiting for rising markets, kind spring weather and cheap inputs is one option. More constructive could be a continued onslaught on production costs.

Such advice is not new. Consultants have long exhorted growers to control overheads and optimise inputs. Most farmers have responded. What is needed now is far greater imagination than ever before to entirely rethink the way the business is run.

No operation can be left untouched. From corn carting to drilling, and cultivations to storage every activity must be re-costed and rethought.

Areas worth closer scrutiny include:

&#8226 Buying strategies.

&#8226 Rotation rethinks.

&#8226 Machinery and labour sharing.

&#8226 Out-working.

&#8226 Appropriate use of contractors.

&#8226 Alternative equipment and input fin-ancing.

Crop husbandry needs reviewing, too. Is it more cost effective to spray once at full rate or twice at half rate? What does each pass across the field cost? What impact does input timing really have?

Answering such questions demands time in the farm office. What-if calculations and budget rethinks all take time and effort. But without them crop profits could suffer.

The potential to improve margins by making radical changes is considerable, but can be nerve racking, too. The message is clear – do not tackle such changes alone. Discussing plans with a consultant, adviser or neighbour will be time more than well spent.

So, 1999 is clearly going to be tough. But if last years lessons are applied and industry advice implemented the business could be left leaner and fitter than ever, and ready to ride the rigours of the world market, whatever the outcome of Agenda 2000.