Climate challenge: Modelling the cost on an arable farm

For the first time, the impact of changing weather patterns on a farmer’s pocket has been modelled. Jez Fredenburgh kicks off Farmers Weekly’s climate series looking at the effects on an arable enterprise.

Rise to climate change logoA farmer’s day is ruled by the weather. For arable enterprises, this is particularly so during key seasonal periods. But planning for the next week, month, or even year or two isn’t enough anymore, say advisers.

Throughout November, farmers and growers will undertake innovative training from The Farming Advice Service (FAS), The Andersons Centre, Adas and the Environment Agency, aimed at encouraging longer-term business planning that is underpinned by weather scenarios. 

“The intention is to encourage people to factor the impact of climate and weather in to their business planning proactively rather than reactively,” says Hugh Martineau, principle consultant at Ricardo-AEA, which runs FAS.

Look out for…

Farmers Weekly’s new series Rise to the Climate Challenge aims to empower farmers with the tools and knowledge to make their businesses climate resilient.

  • 28 November – Weather impact model for a dairy business
  • 12 December – Weather impact model for a mixed livestock business
  • 2015 – Expert business planning advice each season on practical adaptation measures for arable, dairy and mixed livestock farms

“We accept that some of these impacts are very difficult to avoid, but awareness of the risks can be factored in to financial forecasting and investment decisions.” 

An exercise developed by The Andersons Centre and Adas has achieved this by modelling the impact of weather scenarios on different farms.

George Cook, senior business consultant at the Andersons Centre, says: “As far as I am aware, this is the first time this has been done on a business basis, where [the impact of] changing weather patterns [on farm businesses] have been quantified.”

The key is to start thinking more flexibly, says Mr Cook, and for growers to think about solutions for their own farms, as these will change from business to business.

The focus should be on better business management, a fresh look at coping strategies and improving their understanding of soil management.

Mr Martineau says farmers can undertake analysis more specific to their own farm using this approach as a template.

“It is a useful basis for weather-based sensitivity analysis by considering the impacts of weather on variable inputs, labour and machinery,” he says.

Business impact modelling – arable farm (£/ha)
Based on a farm with 600ha of winter wheat, winter OSR and spring beans, 240ha owned and 360ha on farm business tenancies, one owner, one full-time worker plus casual harvest workers.
Scenarios Normal year 1 2 3 4
Output 1,170 1,069 1,035 848 817
Variable costs 427 436 422 427 383
Gross margin 680 633 613 421 428
Overheads 405 408 405 402 402
Rent and finance 243 243 243 243 243
Drawings 75 75 75 75 75
Margin from production -43 -93 -110 -299 -282
Single Payment & ELS 217 217 217 217 217
Business surplus 170 125 108 -82 -75
Business surplus total (£) 102,000 75,000 65,000 -49,000 -45,000
*Source for all the data and predictions come from The Farming Advice Service, the Andersons Centre and Adas.



Arable farm: Weather scenarios
High summer temperatures, normal rainfall and sunshine levels
  • Spring beans yield reduced (-10%), winter wheat yield increased (+10%), winter OSR yield unchanged.
  • Fungicide costs increased (+10%) on winter wheat.
  • Electricity costs increased (+5%) and labour increased (+2%) due to requirement for crop cooling in store.

Spring drought followed by high summer temperatures and low rainfall for a sustained period

  • Spring beans yield reduced (-35%) due to poor germination. OSR and winter wheat yields unchanged.
  • Spray costs on spring beans reduced (-20%) due to lower yield potential.
  • No other input/overhead impacts.

High summer temperatures, summer heatwave and low rainfall for a sustained period

  • Winter wheat yield reduced (-25%), OSR yields reduced (-15%), spring beans yields reduced (-25%).
  • £20/t price reduction on spring beans due to specification failure.
  • Reduced fuel consumption due to faster harvesting, reduced haulage, less drying, and reduced primary cultivations.
  • Electricity costs increase (+5%) due to more cooling of grain in store.

Higher than average rainfall, with 25% more throughout the year

  • 75% of planned winter wheat area drilled, 25% of OSR failed, 9% of farm in spring barley, 9% of farm left fallow.
  • All yields reduced (-25%), while crop costs (sprays) are up due to slug and crop disease pressure.
  • £5/t reduction in wheat prices (bushel weights), only 50% of milling wheat meets specification.
  • Increase in property repairs and contractors due to drainage repair works.

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