Farmer Focus: Where is the sweet spot for crop inputs?

“Stop moaning about the bloody weather and focus on the positives,” advises/orders my wife.

Well actually crops are incredibly clean, both of weeds and disease.

I booked in my usual day’s worth of blackgrass roguers early to avoid disappointment, but now I can hardly find any.

Even the lower leaves on my wheat are as clean as a whistle and it’s a similar story for other crops, with very little risk on the horizon. All this has been achieved with a relatively low spend on agrochemicals backed by good advice, biologicals and foliar nutrition, and of course no rain.

See also: Crop Watch: Blackgrass control and the damaging drought

However, I haven’t gone as far as many in the regenerative agriculture arena and will try to push it further in experimental fields next year.

High margins

The trouble is, we can double or triple yields with added nitrogen which then leads to crop health issues that need to be addressed, where is the sweet spot on high yield potential land? Putting on 150 kg/ha of nitrogen, or less, particularly as fertiliser prices are reducing, may be great for reducing all inputs, but will it give the highest margin?

It may be that we have to learn how to use this approach if our government chooses to follow ideas mooted by the EU and we are made to halve our pesticide inputs and reduce nitrogen.

While the idea of increasing organic farming to 25% of the area is very well-meaning from an environmental perspective, is it ethically the right thing to do when organic food usually costs far more and we are seeing even more people having to visit food banks to survive?

It would have to be heavily subsidised to get around this, would there be societal savings elsewhere to pay for this? Must we have extremes? I’m sure we can have plentiful, reasonably priced food, produced in an environmentally friendly way, we just need a system that rewards this.

Andy Barr farms 700ha in a family partnership in Kent. See his biography.