UNIT COST CHALLENGE 2000
Just how cheaply can you
grow a tonne of wheat? That
was what we asked in the
BASF/farmers weekly Unit
Cost Challenge. Here
Charles Abel profiles the
third of three finalists who
spent less than £35/t on
variable and operational costs
HIGH output from a system made efficient by rapid workrates and big cropped areas is the way ahead for Christopher and David Moore who farm 530ha (1310 acres) at Fleet House Farm, West Butterwick, Scunthorpe, S Humberside.
Mainly alluvial soils and vegetables in the rotation help keep unit costs low. A BASIS trained agronomist/sprayer operator helps fine-tune inputs and apply patch treatments.
A policy of running new kit hard during a three-year warranty period to maximise output, working hours and resale value while minimising repair costs and depreciation is the key to low operational costs.
Typical of the tractor costs is a 125hp Massey Ferguson bought for £40,000, which will sell with 3000 hours on the clock for £20,000 in three years, costing less than £7000 a year in depreciation, says Chris.
A three-year warranty is included in the deal. Servicing costs £800 a year, insurance £200 and fuel at 12p/litre in 1999 was £1750 a year. "Main dealer servicing is not the cheapest way, but for MF machines it protects their value."
Cost of a tractor, therefore, works out at £11.30/hour, thanks to the high annual workrate, which includes beet haulage and veg work.
Labour is costed at £8/hour, reflecting the skill levels required on the farm for veg work, giving an operational cost of £19.30/hour for tractor operation.
Establishment is cheap thanks to the near seed-bed conditions left after beetroot harvesting. Lifting in summer 1998 was early and in dry conditions, causing very little compaction. Headlands and spray wheelings only were sub-soiled at a cost of £25/hour, averaging £5.12/ha across the field.
Light discing followed in good conditions at 4ha/hour. That cost £10.29/ha, based on the discs costing £5.46/ha, plus tractor costs.
The power harrow/combination drill working at 2ha/hour cost £13.41/ha, based on £3.76/ha for drill ownership, spares and repairs, plus £9.65/ha for the tractor and man.
Rolling followed using a neighbour and his equipment for £75 or £3.84/ha, making total establishment costs £32.66/ha.
Fertiliser spreading with a twin disc Amazone covering 1060ha a year at 10ha/hour with depreciation of just £312 and £200 of repairs worked out at £5.03/ha for two passes.
Spraying at 80 litres/ha with a 24m Airtec mounted machine bought for £20,000 and due to sell at £10,000 after three years cost £16.22/ha for four applications. That is based on a 10ha/hour workrate and 2650ha a year throughput, which includes root crops.
Harvesting cost £50/ha by a neighbour, with carting at £15/ha, giving a total operational cost of £118.91/ha.
Variable costs are geared to crop need, the fertile site and root rotation making high yields possible.
Seed was bought from Dalgety for £300/t in 1998. Oct 18 sowing meant wheat bulb fly treatments were omitted, the seed being treated with Sibutol (bitertanol + fuberidazole) only. A lower than usual seed rate of 135kg/ha was made possible by the varietys good tillering potential, costing £40.50/ha. Farm-saved is now being considered to cut costs.
Residual fertility from the beetroot meant just 172kg/ha of bagged nitrogen, costing £81/t. "We could have spent up to £10/t less on imported product, but with spreading at 24m we needed a uniform spread pattern," says Dave.
Soil testing showed no P or K was needed. But half the field received manganese at 60p/ha and it all received High K foliar feed at £6.43/ha to improve peak potash supply on the high calcium warp soil, which can impede uptake.
Dimethoate (insecticide) was used on half the field to combat wheat bulb fly and cypermethrin was added to the herbicide mix. No slug pellets were used.
A good rating for standing and low N use meant Claire only received 0.2 litres/ha of Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) with the T1 fungicide on Apr 28.
Main weed pressures are blackgrass, wild oats, chickweed, speedwell and patches of cleavers. IPU is avoided due to its variable performance and leaching risk. Last year Amazon (clodinafop-propargyl + diflufenican) was used at 1 litre/ha costing £32/ha, plus Lexus 50DF (flupyrsulfuron-methyl) at 20g/ha costing £16.85/ha and Cropsave Oil at 1 litre/ha costing £1.60/ha. Control was good and only patches of cleavers on 10% of the area needed Starane (fluroxypyr) at 0.75 litres/ha costing £14/ha treated.
With mildew as Claires main disease weakness Corbel (fenpropimorph) at 0.35 litres/ha was added to 0.75 litres/ha of Landmark (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole) on Apr 28.
On May 28 flag leaf protection consisted of 0.75 litres/ha of Mantra (epoxiconazole + fenpropimorph + kresoxim-methyl) costing £31.53/ha. Monitoring continued, but no further sprays were required.
That gave a total variable cost of £224.70/ha, making the Moores total variable and operational costs for last years Claire £343.61/ha.
Whether that is low enough to achieve the winning cost a tonne will become clear when his yield figure is announced at the Cereals 2000 event near Lincoln. Watch out for the final outcome in farmers weekly. *
Maintaining profits while prices are low is far from easy. The key is to strike the right balance between yield and quality on the one hand and variable and operational costs on the other. To focus attention on this key issue farmers weekly and agrochemicals supplier BASF, with support from accountant Deloitte and Touche, are staging the Unit Cost Challenge 2000, with £2000-worth of popular fungicide Landmark (epoxiconazole + kresoxim-methyl) as the top prize.
Pushing for top yield in a rotation which includes roots and working equipment long and hard across a big area is the key to low cost of production for Lincs farmers Christopher (left) and Dave Moore.
Chris and Dave Moore
Fleet House Farm, Scunthorpe
Soil type Medium silt.
Total costs 343.61
Yield* (t/ha) ?
Unit cost (£/t) ?
*Yields and final costs will be revealed at the winners presentation at the Cereals 2000 event on Wed, 14 June.