2 January 1998


PEAS at one stage under 150mm (6in) of water highlighted the depressing nature of 1997 for Richard Payne at Heathfield Manor Farm, near Taunton, Somerset.

Selling well forward at comparatively good prices only partly offset some of the gloom induced by the strong £ and the harvest washout.

"We experienced expensive fertiliser and chemicals, but cheap corn. Our projections for the profits from last harvest are substantially down on the previous year, even after selling better."

Lower costs, further contained by planned reductions in the use of inputs like seaweed and trace elements, make the picture for 1998 slightly rosier, he suggests. "But we are still under a lot of pressure."

Highlights of the year were the performances of spring beans and winter rape, the latter receiving no herbicide or fungicide. "But none of the wheat went for milling."

Key lessons learned are that fertiliser could have been a lot less expensive. "Hang on when buying," he advises. "It may have just been the year, but we could have had it £10-£12/t cheaper."

Fears that the new strobilurin fungicides might delay harvest appear unfounded, though the weather made that hard to prove. Their greening effect could compensate for the proposed input cuts, he hopes. "We have saved a lot on establishing pulses with our new drill." Winter beans sown directly into stubble with the Simba have had 100% germination, he notes.

Tidy farming will suffer as least cost cropping becomes the order of the day, says Somerset based south-west barometer farmer Richard Payne.

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