Integrated techniques pay off when grain prices fall
Can integrated crop
management give arable
farming a more consumer-
friendly image and deliver
acceptable profits? A key
conference in East Anglia
last week suggested it
could. Louise Impey reports
INTEGRATED farming systems may fail to match more conventional approaches for profit at high grain prices. But at lower commodity values they are more profitable, argues Alastair Leake of CWS Agriculture.
Speaking at a conference on the role of integrated systems in restoring confidence in farming last week, Mr Leake admitted the loss of yield from ICM hits profits at high grain prices.
"But as grain prices fall, ICM performs better. Yields are usually a bit lower, but so too are the growing costs. The only exception to this is seed, as higher rates are used to combat pests."
Trials at nine different sites suggest a switch to ICM could reduce fungicide use by 41%, fertilisers by 15% and operational costs by 9%, he continued. "Overall, the site costs fell by an average £52/ha.
"A comparison done at todays grain price shows the net margin with ICM is £138/ha, while with conventional husbandry methods the figure is £70/ha. Neither is very exciting, but I know which Id rather."
Mr Leake agreed integrated farming systems were knowledge intensive and required more management time in the early years. But he added they delivered environmental benefits, which are likely to bring rewards under proposed changes to the support system.
"Non-inversion tillage techniques have favoured earthworms, spider and other insect populations," he added. "The same is true for birds. But small mammals seem to prefer a plough-based system, as they can hide from predators more easily. Beetle numbers were the same on both conventional integrated systems – they are more influenced by the crop and the season.