Farmer Focus: Growers should grab benchmarking opportunities

We had a wet spell in October, with rain nearly every day, so it was fortunate the dry ground was able to soak this up.

This allowed the oilseed rape to be sprayed with Proline (prothioconazole) for light leaf spot control, along with trace elements.

Recent days have been frosty, giving us a good chance to get muck on the fields without causing soil damage.

This will be spread and ploughed down ahead of spring barley to meet some of its nutrient requirement, as well as adding valuable organic matter. 

See also: Read more from our Arable Farmer Focus writers

The wet weather has given me time in the office to review yield maps and costs for the year to date.

For the past six years I have been part of an AHDB benchmarking group where 10 of us submit yields, production costs and marketing data through the Cropbench software and receive back a comprehensive report of costs, both per hectare and per tonne.

We meet up three times a year to look at how we are performing and to talk openly about what we are all doing so we can learn from each other and improve our own businesses.

This has been a hugely rewarding exercise and I would encourage anyone who gets the opportunity to join such a group to grasp it.

Brighter 2017 forecast

It is also time to update the forecast for 2017 now that winter crops are established. Better prices and lower fertiliser costs than last year should make 2017 a bit more rewarding as long as yields are reasonable.

However, machinery costs remain stubbornly high and this is an area where manufacturers need to focus on reducing costs rather than continually adding complexity to justify rising prices.

I found a new benchmark yesterday. While clearing up leaves, my daughter said: “Can we keep these conkers? They are much bigger than normal conkers.”

Given that she is now 10 years old and collects conkers every year, this correlates with my feeling that the weather this harvest was the best in 10 years.

The fact that there were no conkers last year shows how we go from one extreme to another.

Robert Drysdale is farm manager at Farmcare’s 1,610ha business in Aberdeenshire, growing winter and spring barley, wheat and oilseed rape across four contract farming agreements to the south of Inverurie. The farm has 130 beef cows on land less suitable for crop production.

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