30 June 2000

Traditional rotations are the best bet

FOR the next two seasons arable farmers should maintain traditional rotations and not be tempted to grow all wheat or opt for a radical set-aside policy.

So says ProCams Helen Allen who believes short-term gains from a change of policy are likely to be wiped out in future years.

"With low prices and reduced farm incomes many are considering radically altering rotations by increasing cereals and pulses," she says. "But they still need break crops to maximise the area of higher yielding first wheats. First wheat has a 1t/ha yield advantage over second wheat which in turn has a 1-1.5t/ha advantage over third crops." She has calculated the effects on the total farm gross margin of a 240ha farm growing 80ha first wheat, a similar area of second wheat, 28ha each of winter rape and winter beans, with 24ha of set-aside.

For harvest 2001 that gives a total gross margin of £125,000, with £50,500 coming from the first wheat, £44,500 from second wheat, £12,500 from rape and £12,400 from the beans, with set-aside providing the rest.

By replacing second wheat with quality winter barley the overall gross margin is reduced to 97% of the standard rotation.

By switching the winter breaks to spring breaks there is a 4% reduction in the overall GM.

Adopting a radical 50% wheat, 50% set-aside approach the GM drops to 79% of the standard. That may mean insufficient farm income to offset fixed costs.

When reduced area aid payments are taken into account the overall GM from the standard rotation falls to £121,000. Where barley replaces second wheat GM is 98% and where spring breaks are grown 97%. The 50:50 wheat/set-aside approach improves slightly to 83%.

"In most situations this is not a viable mainstream option. Although beans look preferable to rape as support arrangements change, rape will still be a key crop." &#42