24 October 1997

Winter wheat still looks best bet for combinable crops

By Andrew Blake

WINTER wheat remains potentially one of the most profitable combinable crops for next harvest, according to latest ADAS Crop Centres figures.

But on light land oilseed rape is marginally a better bet, and on heavy soils malting barley seems the best option – provided the required grain quality can be achieved, says Andy Wells, senior agronomist at ADAS Gleadthorpe, Notts.

"This, our second edition of gross margins for combinable crops, is based on the experience of senior ADAS agronomists and business management consultants, backed by the latest trials information," says Mr Wells.

Winter rye is a sound choice on light ground, producing a greater gross margin than winter barley.

Lower selling prices, only partly offset by cheaper inputs, mean 1998 gross margins are likely to be much lower than in recent seasons, says Mr Wells. "We expect many to be down £200-220/ha from their peak, which is a lot of the profit gone."

The Business Focus data, produced exclusively for Arable Crop Centres members, indicate ranges of gross margins for various crops depending on yield and expected price. "They are intended as a guide," explains Mr Wells. "Clearly farmers themselves know best the yield potential of their own land and can make adjustments as they see fit. For example there is light land and light land. Some will struggle to yield 2.5t/acre of winter cereals, but some may regularly do 3t."

Wheat, barley and rape are increasingly becoming the core of heavy land rotations, he maintains. "Unfortunately pulses are still taking a hammering."

Bread-making wheat does not appear separately in the figures. But users can readily calculate expected margins by taking into account anticipated premiums, he says. "There is usually very little extra growing cost – apart from some extra nitrogen."

Winter oats are omitted, mainly because they tend to be grown away from the main arable areas. "They dont perform very well on light land, and until the arrival of the herbicide Lexus Class they didnt fit in well on heavy land with blackgrass."

No figures for winter beans on light land are supplied. "That is because they are inconsistent performers there."

Likewise there is no information for winter rye on heavy land. "It tends to fall flat on its face."

Although oilseed rape appears profitable, growers should be aware that there remains a risk that area payments may be trimmed because of overproduction, he warns.

"That cannot happen with pulses or linseed. On lighter land too people often dont grow rape to avoid having it as a volunteer in root crops."

Estimated average gross margins of combinable crops for 1998 harvest, according to ADAS. £/ha (£/acre)

Light landHeavy land

Winter wheat (feed)657 (266)750 (303)

Winter oilseed rape660 (267)732 (296)

Winter barley (malting)594 (240)791 (320)

Winter barley (feed)540 (219)700 (283)

Winter peas (feed)539 (218)594 (240)

Industrial osr on set-aside519 (210)553 (224)

Winter rye622 (252)–

Flax530 (214)548 (222)

Winter linseed512 (207)541 (218)

Set-aside303 (122)303 (122)

Notes: Calculations assume all seed bought. 34.5%N fertiliser at £97/t. Standard 60kg/ha phosphate & potash on all crops. Green rate to calculate area aid payments £0.775745 = 1ecu.

GM PROSPECTS

&#8226 GMs £200/ha lower than 1996.

&#8226 Winter wheat best overall.

&#8226 OSR better on light land, malting barley on heavy.

&#8226 Pulses look poor.

&#8226 Maintain inputs, buy cheaper – chemicals down 10% already.

GM PROSPECTS

&#8226 1998 GMs set to be £200/ha lower than 1996.

&#8226 Winter wheat best overall.

&#8226 OSR better on light land, malting barley on heavy.

&#8226 Pulses look poor.

&#8226 Maintain inputs, but buy cheaper – agrochemical prices are down 10% already.

Estimated average gross margins of combinable crops for 1998 harvest, according to ADAS


Light land Heavy land

£/ha (£/acre)£/ha (£/acre)

Winter wheat (feed)657 (266)750 (303)

Winter oilseed rape660 (267)732 (296)

Winter barley (malting)594 (240)791 (320)

Winter barley (feed)540 (219)700 (283)

Winter peas (feed)539 (218)594 (240)

Industrial osr on set-aside519 (210)553 (224)

Winter rye622 (252)- –

Flax530 (214)548 (222)

Winter linseed512 (207)541 (218)

Set-aside303 (122)303 (122)

Notes: Calculations assume all seed bought. 34.5%N fertiliser at £97/t. Standard 60kg/ha phosphate & potash on all crops. Green rate to calculate area aid payments £0.775745 = 1ecu.