Farmer Focus: Larger farm doesn’t equal cheaper costs

I find it hard to believe we are already near the end of March; how can this year be going so fast!

The February heatwave gave us a suitable chance to drill and roll most spring barley crops in great conditions and following seed testing we have again used undressed seed.

Nitrogen is now being applied to autumn cereals and crops look well.

See also: How Oxfordshire farmer cleaned up a bad blackgrass problem

The hot weather has unfortunately stimulated resident cabbage stem flea beetle larvae in oilseed rape crops.

While our own crops are compromised, they appear to be pulling through, but there are local reports of crops being abandoned as they are rapidly going backwards.

I really don’t know what the answer is to the break crop conundrum, but confidence in oilseed rape is failing fast in these parts, especially given the suppressed market price backdrop.

Alternative crops

I have toyed with the idea of alternative crops such as soya, lupins and sunflowers, but have not got the courage to be the guinea pig.

I really enjoyed attending the well-organised NFU Conference in Birmingham.

It was reassuring to see indications of a constructive, close-working relationship between Defra and NFU top brass during these chaotic times, and to hear Mr Gove verbally pledge that the UK will not lower production standards in pursuit of trade deals or leave us at an unfair competitive disadvantage.

I was also struck by NFU ambitions to make UK agriculture carbon neutral by 2040 (net zero) – rightfully putting tackling climate change centre stage.

Achieving this goal while simultaneously maintaining food self-sufficiency for a growing population with less inputs will be incredibly tough. Will supportive governments give us access to the technological tools we will require?

I was fascinated to watch a recent AHDB YouTube webinar on farm machinery costs using ‘monitor farm’ data.

It was remarkable that crop establishment costs showed massive variations of between £32/ha to £288/ha.

Perhaps even more surprising was the fact that there was no observable relationship between establishment costs and farmed area scales.

The universal principle that farming larger areas automatically brings greater economies of scale is clearly overly simplistic.

This work suggests that for arable enterprise profitability how you farm is far more important than how much you farm.


David Butler farms just south of Marlborough in Wiltshire in partnership with his parents. He also runs a contracting company and farms about 870ha of combinable crops alongside a herd of 280 dairy cows.