Farmer Focus: Benchmarking exercise is encouraging for Andrew Charlton

Midwinter is benchmarking season here through the activities of the Denver Debaters’ discussion group of tenants from our estate.

This is our third year and, on the whole, I think we can reflect on some progress in cost control because of our annual performance comparison.

To date we have analysed only fixed costs, mainly because we are a fairly diverse group of farming businesses. But I find it interesting to look at the costs related to farm size.

Generally our group is of farms in the 50-200ha range and it’s noticeable that fixed costs are more competitive, to the tune of about £100/ha, for those at the upper end of this scale.

Overall, we’re pretty good at controlling costs in comparison with, say, Farm Business Survey data, but it would be foolish to rest on our laurels.

My own performance is pretty much mid-table of our group of nine farms. At first reading it doesn’t seem that positive. But when you consider that I carry the biggest contractors’ cost because of east European labour for hand-weeding, it’s not as bad as first appears.

I’m also really pleased that my machinery collaboration with my neighbour, Giles, is beginning to kick in through lower power & machinery costs.

Our combined achievements in obtaining higher work-rates, fewer breakdowns through having better kit, and generally doing a better job is a no-brainer. When you add in the fact that we’re both managing to do this at less cost, it’s difficult to understand why not everyone is doing it.

Looking ahead to 2009 my greatest hope is for something like normal weather. In particular, we really need an end to the run of five consecutive wet Augusts/Septembers because pretty much all our attempts at couch control by cultivation have been fruitless.

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