8 March 2002

Yields vital at low prices

With spring looming after

the wettest February for a

decade, Andrew Blake

assesses spring prospects

with farmers weeklys

regional barometer farmers

AT least this seasons crops offer some hope of a reasonable harvest.

But the consensus of farmers weeklys regional representatives is that with predicted off-combine prices below £60/t, they need to.

However, none of them expects to trim inputs much for fear of compromising yield and/or quality. Peter Wombwell, of Suffolk, sums it up: "Without yield we are lost. But I shall be watching costs as closely as possible with our new agronomist."

Only on the three farms with livestock, in the west, north and Northern Ireland, can lower grain prices be viewed positively. "What we lose on the arable side we tend to gain with our pigs," admits Catherine Thompson, from Yorks.

Harvest quotes as low as £50-55/t have persuaded Chris Salisbury in Somerset to switch more wheat on his heavy land into whole-crop silage for the dairy. "We tried it last year and it worked well. This year we will probably cut about 75 acres." That will cut the need to haul maize from his lighter unit 20 miles away and make some room for pulses there.

Most of Robert Craigs barleys in Co Londonderry, some of which with the wheat are for silage, are "full of potential". But a straw price slide threatens to take the shine off the rest, he says.

Bar two fields, of wheat and rape lying wet after disced set-aside, crops for William Hemus in Warks are equally promising. "We should have ploughed those two, but for the rest there is everything to play for. They are a million times better than last year."

In Surrey, Simon Porter had top-dressed winter barley, rape and backward wheat by the third week in February. "The low proces mean I am not as optimistic as I was. But I am not pessimistic, either, because there is still a long way to go. The worst scenario would be a big harvest of poor quality."

With no chance of barley prices being any better than last year, Robert Ramsay is keen to get some nitrogen and particularly fungicide on to his main crop in Angus as soon as possible to preserve quality. Near non-stop rain has seen no field work for two months. "We need to keep on top of rhyncho and net blotch to avoid having to go in with a fire-brigade treatment."

In Shropshire, where Sandy Walker believes it has been drier than elsewhere, the key task of potato planting was underway by Mar 1, only a few days late. "All our wheats are OK provided we can keep them standing."

Low grain prices are not encouraging. "But I have got 16 months to sell. It doesnt have to go at harvest."

BAROMETERPROSPECTS

&#8226 Crops far better than last spring.

&#8226 Most maintaining input levels.

&#8226 New strobs welcome at right price.

&#8226 Strong external pressures.