UNIT COST CHALLENGE 2002 - Farmers Weekly

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14 June 2002


Flag leaf sprays are on and

ear washes are waiting in

the wings for the Unit Cost

Challenge finalists chosen

fields of wheat. Which will

produce the lowest cost of

production/t remains to be

seen but already there are

big differences in the

contestants confidence in

their crops.

Andrew Swallow reports

Option on course for good yield

WITH flag leaf sprays on and ears just emerging Peter Robertson is confident his Unit Cost Challenge crop of Option at Palace Farm, Jedburgh, will at least match the farms rolling average yield of 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) and, hopefully, land a premium to boot.

"I doubt we will get top quality, but, hopefully, protein will be in the mid-12s with a reasonable Hagberg so we get a £5 or £6/t premium."

But the weather will have to improve first, he notes. "We could badly do with a spell of warm sunny weather. We have had a fortnight of heavy showers and the forecast is not good either."

A flag-leaf fungicide mix of 0.5 litre/ha Amistar (azoxystrobin) and 0.5 litre/ha Beam (spiroxamine + tebuconazole), plus 12.5kg/ha of Bittersalz, went on in good time at full flag-leaf on May 31. Only a little mildew and septoria low down in the canopy was visible at the time suggesting the Bravo/Eminent (chlorothalonil/ tetraconazole) T1 fungicide mix had done a good job. "And the crop feels pretty stiff, too," says Mr Robertson in light of the one-hit pgr policy of 2.3 litres/ha of chlormequat with the T1.

More Bittersalz, Amistar, and possibly a triazole is planned for T3, but not before July. "I like to leave a reasonable gap between sprays." In the meantime the last 43kg/ha (34 units/acre) of solid ammonium nitrate will go on to try to keep protein content up.

The one hiccup in the crops progress has been with herbicides, a shower after the spring mix of low-rate Ally (metsulfuron-methyl) plus CMPP reducing control of volunteer oilseed rape and chickweed. "They are stronger than we would like but we never aim for 100% control and I doubt there will be any effect on yield."

Managements lean, mean U-turn

WET weather and tumbling new product prices have prompted Christopher and David Moore to make a management U-turn with their Nov-drilled Savannah Unit Cost Challenge entry at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick, in North Lincs.

"I have to admit we have changed course," says Christopher. "I was going to go for old chemistry to keep the input costs as low as possible, but the competition is yield driven and new product prices have dropped by about 25%."

After an Opus (epoxiconazole) plus Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) T1 spray, in line with the original lean-mean plan, two 0.75 litre/ha doses of Opera (pyraclostrobin + epoxiconazole) have been applied.

The first went on in tank-mix with Ally (metsulfuron-methyl) and Bettaquat (chlormequat) when the flag leaf was just peeping out on May 8, and the second on the Saturday of the Jubilee weekend.

First nitrogen, 92kg/ha (74 units/acre) as urea, went on just before the last reasonable rain in March and a second dose of the same went on in early May. Rains return at the end of April could not have been better, says Mr Moore.

"We have been very fortunate. The biggest risk with late-drilled crops is a May drought, but it was dry when it needed to be and the crop has never stopped growing." Now it is on course for a budget busting 10t/ha (4t/acre) with savings on herbicides, pgrs and early fungicides in the bag thanks to late drilling.

"But the main thing we hope to save money on is with our fixed costs," he says. That is despite a new combine for the 263ha (650 acres) of combinable crops on the farm.

"It is not big and we got a good deal on it. We will look after it and keep it for 10 years. I am confident we can keep costs well under contractor charges."

April brings a drought doubt

DRY spring weather, gout fly and non-plough cultivation have left Lincs farm manager James Brook fearing his competition crop of Claire at Norton Place Estate will fall too short on yield to challenge the unit cost of production from the silt-land sowings of Mr Means and Mr Moore.

But the thinner canopy on the clay-loam soil has allowed disease control costs to be paired with excellent results. As of last week every tiller had five spotless leaves with only a little mildew visible in the base of the crop.

Opus (epoxiconazole) plus Twist (trifloxystrobin) has been the backbone of the programme so far, with 0.25 litre/ha and 0.4 litre/ha, respectively, applied as the T1 spray on Apr 23, followed by a 0.3 litre/ha and 0.5 litre/ha mix for the flag leaf on May 29.

Newer strobilurins were passed over on account of Claires good septoria and rust resistance and greater confidence in reduced rates with Twist based on ARC and HGCA work. "If it was Consort then we might have been tempted to try some Opera."

An ear-spray will go on soon with a reasonable rate of Amistar (azoxystrobin) used to prolong the green leaf area and eke out every possible bit of yield potential from the crop. "A lot of people try to make savings with the ear-spray but it is still a long time until harvest and I place a high value on it," stresses Mr Brook.

Autumn weed control of ipu plus CMPP has also worked well with no spring follow-up needed, despite the more open canopy than planned. But the crop is playing catch-up now and will need kind weather to keep it going if it is to yield anything like Mr Brooks original 10t/ha (4t/acre) target. "I reckon we have lost at least 1-2t/ha already," he says.

Ear count cause for concern

ARE there enough ears/sq m for maximum yield?

That was the question worrying Mark Means at The Laurels, Terrington St Clement, near Kings Lynn, as his September-sown challenge crop of Consort approached anthesis.

But assessments last week revealed an average 497 ears/sq m. "That is just about where we want to be, even though it looks a bit thin," he says.

A final 47kg/ha (38 units/ acre) of nitrogen as ammonium nitrate went on in the last week of May, topping up the 175kg/ha (140 units/acre) from urea in early April and early May splits. "The aim is to give the crop the nitrogen when it needs it and not to make it fall over. Using urea has given us an extra 80kg/ha of nitrogen for the same cost."

The flag leaf spray, a mix of 0.95 litre/ha Opera (pyraclostrobin + epoxiconazole) plus Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride), was applied on May 10 with the crop just past GS37. Starane (fluroxypyr) was added on the headlands to take out cleavers but the few weeds in middle of the field were deemed uneconomic to control.

"The autumn ipu/dff did a good job. There might be the odd poppy, but they wont knock yield."

Earlier concerns that the April 5 T1 spray was too early (Arable, Apr 19) have proved unfounded. All the upper leaves are clean with septoria only now becoming visible on leaf four of the main tillers, he adds.

For the flag leaf spray water volume and pressure were increased in the middle of the field to produce a finer spray with the aim of improving coverage. "I am happy it has done a good job, too."

A pre-Cereals event ear-spray was planned, probably an Amistar/ Folicur (azoxystrobin/tebuconazole) mix aimed at topping up septoria and brown rust protection more than fusarium control. "I shall be disappointed if it yields less than 11t/ha," he says. &#42

A message from the sponsor

BASF is committed to the advance of crop protection in the UK and is delighted to again sponsor the Unit Cost Challenge Competition. Each year the contest has shown that cereals can be grown profitably in the UK despite the sliding price of grain and increasing market pressures. Last years winner drove costs down to less than £25/t before rent, property and administration. This year we have broken with tradition by bringing the previous Challenge winners together to compete to be the "lowest of the low" in terms of unit cost of production. The winner will receive the Unit Cost Challenge Trophy plus £2000-worth of Opera for 2003 – a prize that is guaranteed to drive down the cost of production. BASF is pleased that the competitors agronomists are also participating. We see this as an acknowledgement of the agronomists important and continuing role in providing sound advice.

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19 April 2002


To produce the lowest cost/t of wheat off a whole field including every cost of

growing it – labour, machinery, fuel, as well as the usual input costs. That is the

FW/BASF Unit Cost Challenge. This years four finalists chose their crops for the

competition in the depths of winter, as reported in FW Mar 8 issue. Today,

Andrew Swallow pays them a second visit to report their spring progress and plans

Feeding micro-nutrient needs

BORDERS grower Peter Robert-sons October-drilled Option will have a programme of foliar feeds through the season to counter common deficiencies seen at Palace Farm, in the Teviot Valley near Jedburgh.

"Manganese is a continuous problem, both with wheat and barley. We even use a seed dressing on the spring barley," he says.

The Challenge crops first dose of manganese went on late last week along with herbicides Ally (metsulfuron-methyl) and CMPP to counter chickweed and mayweeds. "I used very low rates – 15g/ha and 0.5 litres/ha – so it was a pretty cheap mix."

Sulphur will be added to the T1 spray and flag and ear applications will be laced with the magnesium and sulphur product Bittersalz. However, with the crop only at GS30 last weekend the T1 timing is still at least a week away, he reckons.

"There is very little disease, just a bit on the lower leaves. We will go on at GS31 with Bravo and Eminent." That chlorothalonil/tetraconazole combination will be mixed with the crops only pgr, a full-rate dose of chlormequat.

Strobilurins will be used at flag-leaf and in the ear spray, probably Amistar (azoxystrobin). "Its done a good job in the past and Im sticking with it for this year," he says.

The crop follows a double-break from cereals and yield potential on the riverside field is 8.5-10t/ha, he estimates.

Nitrogen will be split three ways, the first of two 94kg/ha (75 units/acre) doses of UK ammonium nitrate having already been applied. A further 44kg/ha (35 units/acre) will go on late to boost protein of the Group 2 milling variety.

Bulb fly breaks wheat budget

UP to last week Christopher and David Moores Challenge crop of November-drilled Savannah had only had an insecticide applied to it and even that wasnt part of the original lean mean plan.

"It had some wheat bulb fly in it so we had to give it some dimethoate in mid-March. Its not a product I like using but we didnt want to chance it," says Christopher.

The pest is a regular problem following beetroot on the silt soils at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick in north Lincs and despite Evict (tefluthrin) seed treatment the Challenge crop was still hit.

Nitrogen was held back until last week when 87kg/ha (70 units/acre) was spun on across 24m as granular urea. Purchasing was deliberately delayed until after Easter to counter the temptation to go too soon. Buying late cost them no more.

"It cost us £114/t and we wont be paying for it until May," he says.

A T1 spray of Opus (epoxiconazole) plus Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) will be the first fungicide and pgr input but that will have to wait until the sprayer tractor has finished planting potatoes, probably around the middle of this week.

"I am not prepared to have more tractors on the farm than we absolutely have to. It means we may have to compromise a little on timings but it keeps the fixed costs down."

With little disease in the Challenge crop, that is not too much of a concern and it should still do 8.5t/ha, he estimates. Whether that will win will depend on what can be saved by cutting back on inputs.

"I am a little bit more relaxed about grassweed control with corn at £50/t because I reckon this could be a good year to weed map," says Christopher, following his decision to dodge grassweed and wild oat control for the year. "But I imagine we will have to use some Starane for cleavers."

Waiting for T1

AT Norton Place Estate, in central Lincs, farm manager James Brook is playing a waiting game with his mid-September sown Challenge crop of Claire.

"All weve done so far is give it 2.2 litres/ha of chlormequat at GS30." That was applied on Mar 23 and followed two days later by the first 94kg/ha dose of nitrogen, applied as ammonium nitrate.

"We waited for GS30 with nitrogen because we had enough tillers – there was no need for an early application."

No rain since means uptake has been minimal and as of last weekend the crop was still at GS31. "It will be a week or so before leaf three is emerging and we go with a fungicide. What we use then will depend on the weather."

If the current dry spell continues, a simple Opus (epoxiconazole), Bravo (chlorothalonil) mix will be applied, but if it turns wet then strobilurin Twist (trifloxystrobin) will replace the Bravo to boost disease protection.

"Septoria is the main disease. Mildew is a worry with Claire but at the moment there is nothing to speak of there. We may add a morpholine if it does develop."

No more pgr is planned. "The lodging risk isnt too high because we dont have too many plants, but we may have to review that if we get some warm wet weather and spurt of lush growth."

Gout-fly damage is a concern, but Mr Brook still believes the crop is on course to produce 10t/ha (4t/acre). "A lot will depend on the rainfall, but it is a good heavyland site so it should produce a reasonable crop.

"Well definitely use a strob on the flag leaf and then tune the T3 spend according to the season."

More N on the fen

DRY conditions at the Laurels, Terrington St Clement, prompted Mark Means to increase the first dose of nitrogen on his Sept 12 sown Challenge crop of Consort to 98kg/ha (78 units/acre).

"I wouldnt have put on so much but as we are using urea I was concerned about volatilisation," he says.

That went on at the start of April, by which time the 100 plants/sq m stand had thinned down to eight or nine tillers/plant, closely followed by the first fungicide mix of 0.54 litres/ha Acanto (picoxystrobin) and 0.3 litres/ha Opus (epoxiconazole).

"There was some septoria but no mildew and the odd eyespot lesion wasnt penetrating so septoria was the only real target. The rain in mid-March is sure to have spread it onto leaf four."

Applied on Apr 5, leaf three was just poking out on most of the main tillers. "We were perhaps a bit early which is why I used Acanto, but now Im a bit concerned the rate weve used wont have the persistence to get to full flag leaf. We may have to go at GS37 rather than GS39."

With 60 litres of Opera (pyraclostrobin + epoxiconazole) sitting in his store, Mr Means is keen to use that at flag leaf. However, as it is the prize for winning last years Unit Cost Challenge, pricing could prove a problem.

"If they let me price it at £30/litre then I shall use a litre at T2. If it is any more then I may cut it back to 0.8 litres/ha or even use Amistar."

Spending on pgrs could be as much as £10/ha (£4/acre) with 1.6 litres/ha of Cycocel (choline chloride + chlormequat) plus 0.1 Moddus (trinexapac-ethyl) applied on Mar 4, 0.75 litres/ha of chlormequat and 0.1 litres/ha of Moddus at T1 and Terpal (2-chloroethylphosphonic acid + mepiquat chloride) to follow.

However, the Consort follows vining peas and has the potential to hit 12t/ha (5t/acre), he believes. &#42

Sponsors message

BASF is delighted to again sponsor the Unit Cost Challenge Competition. Over the past two years, the competition has shown cereals can be grown profitably in the UK, despite the difficult marketplace. This year we are launching new cereal fungicide Opera, based on F500, to complement existing products Landmark and Opus. To reflect their contribution to lowering unit cost of production we have asked past challenge winners to compete to be "lowest of the low". By focusing on crops in the ground we hope the articles will help you fine-tune your own crop management this season. BASFs aim, as always, is to provide you with the tools – this competition is all about how to use them.

&#8226 Contestants and their agronomists are vying for a prize of fungicide product for the 2003 season, plus the Unit Cost Challenge trophy.

Contestants crop comments

&#8226 Peter Robertson on October-drilled Option in the Scottish Borders: "It has dried up remarkably. Weve had a fortnight without rain and there is very little disease."

&#8226 Christopher Moore on November-drilled Savannah on silt in north Lincs: "Granular urea is so much cheaper you cant afford to ignore it with wheat worth what it is."

&#8226 James Brook on Sept 16 sown Claire on clay loam in mid-Lincs: "Gout-fly damage is a concern but Im hopeful the crop should still produce enough ears."

&#8226 Mark Means on Sept 12 drilled Consort on silt near Kings Lynn, Norfolk: "The aim is to keep it short, clean and standing. Then we can use fungicides and nitrogen to drive the yield."

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8 March 2002


Do you know what it will cost to grow one tonne of wheat on your farm this year? Four

finalists from previous farmers weekly/BASF Unit Cost Challenge competitions have a

good idea and are now competing to produce wheat at the lowest cost/tonne for this

years competition. Once everything was drilled, we asked them to pick the field they

felt would do best. Andrew Swallow gives a first report on their choices

N. Lincs lean and mean

HOW little can you spend on a crop of wheat and still produce a reasonable yield? Christopher Moore aims to find out with his Unit Cost Challenge entry, a field of November-drilled Savannah at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick in Lincs.

"With wheat falling below £60/t, you have got to look very hard at how much you are spending on it. Besides that, I wanted to try something a little bit unusual for the competition," he says.

Savannah has performed well on the farm in the late drilled spot before, a fact backed up by its late drilled rating on the Recommended List, he says.

Sown on Nov 7 following beetroot, the operational cost of establishing the Challenge crop was below £500 for the 18ha (44 acre) field, he estimates. "It was all done in one day, with one man ploughing and pressing and the other drilling with a combination drill."

Seed was bought in dressed with Sibutol (bitertanol + fuberidazole) plus Evict (tefluthrin) and drilled at 150kg/ha (1.2cwt/acre). "I probably should have farm-saved for the competition, but we were drilling at a time of year when we are flat out and needed the bulb-fly treatment."

Nothing has been spent since. Weed control will be on a look-see basis and the fungicide regime could well focus on older chemistry. Earlier drilled first wheat on the farm, mostly Claire and Consort this year, averages 10t/ha (4t/acre), but the Challenge crop may only do 7.5-8t/ha, he says. "But it looks to have established well and may be the crop that makes us most money in the end."

Champs max-yield field

LAST years winner, Mark Means, plans to push his chosen crop to the limit of its yield potential to cover increased overhead costs on the family farm at Terrington Marsh, near Kings Lynn.

That yield aim ruled out Claire and Tanker when fields were selected for the Challenge just after Christmas. A field of old favourite Consort, sown on Sept 12 after vining peas, will be used to defend his title.

"We looked at the Claire but if we want to push it we have to keep the crop standing and I dont feel we know enough about Tanker yet," he says.

Three passes were made to establish the crop, a quick skim over with a Lemken Terra-Disc to work in pea haulm, then a pass with a five-leg flat-lift and packer to leave a weatherproof surface ready for drilling with the farms Moore Uni-Drill.

A new Case MX270, used to pull the flat-lift and the drill, has put the establishment cost up a little from last year at £53/ha, he says. "It puts the pressure on to get a big yield."

A three-strob fungicide programme is planned, but a T0 spray will be avoided if at all possible. "There is some septoria in it, but it is not too bad. Ive got a budget and I know what I am going to spend on it. The only worry is whether it will fall down."

Seed was home-saved which, at the 62kg/ha rate used, pruned about £4/ha off the total cost and at least the target population of 90-100 plants/sq m was achieved. "There are 15-20 tillers/plant now."

Claire ousts Consort

LINCS farm manager James Brook has chosen the same field as the 2000 crop which he entered in last years Challenge, but Claire has replaced Consort as the variety.

"It is a clay loam – one of the heavier soils on the farm – which could be important because we are surely due a dry summer soon. We like Claire for the early drilling slot and have had good results with it in the past."

Following spring oilseed rape, the clay loam field on AM Duguid and Sons Norton Place Estate, near Market Rasen, was sub-soiled, disced twice, drilled with a combination drill and rolled, giving a total operational establishment cost of £76.60/ha.

"We normally plough for wheat because we have FYM to plough in or we are following forage maize, but we needed a quick turnaround after the oilseed rape and it is quite strong land so we went for the discs," says Mr Brook.

The home-saved seed was sown on Sep 16 at 101kg/ha to give 224 seeds/sq m and a cost of £14.35/ha including Sibutol dressing. An autumn herbicide of 4 litres/ha ipu plus 1 litre/ha of cmpp went on in late October to combat grassweeds and volunteer oilseed rape, while cypermethrin was included to keep BYDV-bearing aphids at bay.

As of mid-February, the crop had 620 tillers/sq m. "Thats ideal really. We want 600 ears/sq m."

Mr Brook is in no hurry to apply nitrogen to the crop but a little will probably be applied just pre-GS30 to sustain tiller numbers.

Some mildew in the crop will need keeping an eye on and may merit a pre-T1 spray.

Optimistic with Option

FLOODS have robbed Borders grower Peter Robertsons Challenge entry of some yield already at Palace Farm in the Teviot Valley, near Jedburgh.

However, he is still optimistic the October-sown Option can match last years unit cost of £19.65/t.

"The river was over 30 acres of our land at one point and I reckon weve lost half an acre," he says. But that is a small proportion of the 14.5ha (39 acre) field and most of the crop is growing well now, he adds.

Despite a double-break from cereals – the field was in potatoes two years ago and spring oilseed rape last year – sowing was deliberately delayed to minimise disease and weed pressure. "The only thing I want to do in the autumn is sow the seed," he says.

Bought-in Sibutol-dressed seed was drilled on Oct 26 at 130 seeds/sq m, giving a seed cost of £17/ha (£7/acre).

Plough, power-harrow and drill establishment costs should be similar to last year and the field is on course to at least come close to last years Option yield of 9.45t/ ha (3.8t/acre), he believes. &#42

Challenge crops

James Brook, farm manager at Norton Place, nr Market Rasen, Lincs.Soil: Clay Loam Variety: Claire Drilling date: Sept 16

Mark Means, The Laurels, Terrington St Clement, Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Soil: Silt Variety: Consort Drilling date: Sept 12

Christopher Moore, Fleet Farm, West Butterwick, Lincs Soil: Silt Variety: Savannah Drilling date: Nov 7

Peter Robertson, Palace Farm, Jedburgh, Scottish Borders. Soil: Clay loam Variety: Option Drilling date: Oct 26

Sponsors message

BASF is delighted to again sponsor the Unit Cost Challenge Competition. Over the past two years, the competition has shown cereals can be grown profitably in the UK, despite the difficult marketplace. This year we are launching new cereal fungicide Opera, based on F500, to complement existing products Landmark and Opus. To reflect their contribution to lowering unit cost of production we have asked past challenge winners to compete to be "lowest of the low". By focusing on crops in the ground we hope the articles will help you fine-tune your own crop management this season. BASFs aim, as always, is to provide you with the tools – this competition is all about how to use them.

&#8226 Contestants and their agronomists are vying for a prize of fungicide product for the 2003 season, plus the Unit Cost Challenge trophy.

    Read more on:
  • News
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