Input skills win Kent manager a place in final

29 May 1998

Input skills win Kent manager a place in final

Matching inputs to need and paring operational costs to the bone was the key to success for this weeks finalist in the farmers weekly/Brown Butlin Unit Cost Challenge, which is supported by accountant Deloitte & Touche. Charles Abel reports

MOST growers reckon they can match inputs to crop need and potential yield, but few can do it as successfully as Simon Beddows, manager at Dr Hof Farms, Elham, near Canterbury, Kent found.

In 1996 he pushed Consort to 12.2t/ha (4.95t/acre) on the 220ha (89-acre) predominantly grade three arable and grass farm. That secured him a finalists place in last years Unit Cost Challenge.

Now, thanks to some expert agronomy decisions, he is in the final again, despite his Consort yielding 2t/ha (0.8t/acre) lower last harvest.

Input savings of 20% are the key to his success. Careful crop walking, advice from two local distributors and ARC support meant inputs were contained in a year of low yield potential, but used to the full where needed.

The result was a 10.15t/ha (4.1t/acre) yield. "That was well up on the farms 9t/ha four-year average and good for the year," notes Mr Beddows.

Insurance pgr and fungicide treatments during the exceptionally dry April were vital, protecting the crop once the heavens opened in May. "By the time it started raining it was too late to react. Fortunately, we had the crop ready and reaped the benefits."

The first fungicide was a cheap £10/ha (£4/acre) mix of quarter rate Alto (cyproconazole) plus chlorothalonil for Septoria protection. "It was so dry then we were able to make savings." Pointer was avoided for fear of knocking the already stressed crop.

At the crucial flag leaf spray no cuts were made – a conventional 0.75 litres/ha of Opus (epoxiconazole) plus chlorothalonil went on, costing £32/ha (£13/acre). "It paid off; we had the crop covered and we got the yield response," says Mr Beddows.

Despite the standard flag leaf spray total fungicide spend was down 19% on the previous season to £42/ha (£17/acre). Missing an ear wash spray and making savings early in the season were the main reasons.

Seed costs fell even further, dropping 24%. "We do not home save because we do not have time to get it cleaned and dressed. But we bought well and cut the rate for October 5 sowing to 143kg/ha, which cost us £41.88/ha."

Fertiliser costs also slid 18%, mainly because the field needed less compound. Total N rate was 200kg/ha, with more used early to boost the droughted crop. SP5 Nitraprill at £125/t was used to ensure good coverage across the full 18m bout, to speed spreading and cut application costs.

Herbicide use was slightly cut, amounting to £34.82/ha (£14.10/acre) for an autumn cholorotoluron/ Stomp (pendimethalin) mix, followed by Starane (fluroxypyr) on the headlands for cleavers in late May. Pest control costs were negligible thanks to an absence of slugs and summer aphids.

The net result is a variable cost spend of just £214/ha (£86.60/acre). Set against a 10.15t/ha crop that is equivalent to £21.08/t, just beating the previous years £21.82/t.

Tailoring inputs to crop need is second nature to Kent farm manager Simon Beddows. Tweaking seed and spray rates last season helped push his 10.12t/ha crop of Consort into this years Unit Cost Challenge finals.

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