Disappointing harvest prompts arable rotation rethink

Drilling is nearly complete at our Management Matters farm in the east, but Robert Garner is reviewing his arable rotation. Ian Ashbridge reports

Robert and John Garner finished combining in early September and have been taking stock on a harvest that has failed to excite.

Oilseed rape yielded a better-than-average 1.7t/acre (just over 3.5t/ha). Robert has sold the crop throughout the year at an average price of £180/t, including a premium for oil content.

But the same couldn’t be said for the wheat. First drought, then prolonged rain, meant 3.25t/acre (8t/ha) was down on what he expected – up to 2t/ha short. “The wet weather in August was mainly to blame and we’ve had problems with quality,” said Robert.

Feed wheat

However, this season’s sharp increase in cereals prices has meant a big pile of feed wheat is still no bad thing. “We’ve made the decision that most of our forward-sold wheat will go on a boat out of King’s Lynn in mid-November, with Centaur Grain. But we’ve got to prepare for a reduction of up to £10/t due to sprouting grain and fusarium.”

However, Robert can draw some consolation that total sales of wheat have proved better than he budgeted. “Like a lot of other people, I’d sold 400t forward at £85/t, but I took out an option which took that up £20/t to £105/t.”

About 700t of Robert’s harvest is committed to buyers, with another 250t in the shed to spot-sell throughout the rest of the season.

Few of the wheats have impressed Robert this year. Robigus has proved a particular offender, and Robert has decided to drop it from his rotation. “We had a problem with yellow rust last year, which cost us an extra fungicide pass, but three days of solid rain at harvest put the final nail in the coffin.”


This autumn will see four varieties pass through the coulters. Group two Einstein and Group one Solstice form the lion’s share, with a small amount of Humber and Oakley soft wheats.

Only about 14ha (35 acres) of wheat are left to drill, plus a small area of oats. Beans keep their place in the rotation as a break crop, although Robert has switched from spring beans to Wizard winter beans, aimed for the human consumption market. He has also drilled nearly 81ha (200 acres) of Expert, Castille and Commando oilseed rape, through co-operative United Oilseeds.

“Prices of £235/t are achievable for harvest 2008. I’ve sold nothing yet, but will probably commit 0.75t/acre by harvest.”

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