Three-pronged attack on wheat growing costs
Fertile land, use of a
contractor and prudent
agronomy are helping a
Norfolk farmer slash wheat
Andrew Blake reports
IN 1999 an 11ha (28 acre) field of Equinox wheat on Clive Delamores well-bodied silt at Terrington St Clements cost just £34.21/t to produce. Had it not been for the need to use a bulb fly dressing and increase the seed rate for the late November-sown crop, the bill would have been even lower.
The key to Mr Delamores low production cost is high output. The first crop Equinox after calabrese yielded 12.36t/ha (5t/acre). "We were a bit down on that this year – the best we had was about 4.25t/acre," says Mr Delamore. "But we normally get over four."
Much comes from residual fertility in letting up to half the 200ha (500 acres) farm for vegetable and potato growing, he believes. "For us wheat is really a break crop."
Input control is an important element. That is achieved by employing a contractor, Guyhirn-based David Bass, for all the fieldwork and shunning cosmetically clean crops.
"On our acreage I cannot justify having our own tackle," says Mr Delamore. "Often we may have three large tractors all in the same field at once. It really helps with timeliness, and I know up front exactly what every operation will cost me."
He gives agronomist Tim Whitaker of Banks Agriculture a firm remit. "I want to see a few weeds at harvest. I dont mind the odd thistle."
Having plenty of vegetables and potatoes in the rotation means blackgrass is not a problem.
Further economies come via the manure from a single suckler herd kept to make good use of vegetable wastes. "Tim reckons it saves about £12/acre on fertiliser."
There is rarely a need for stale seed-beds and establishment is kept simple by ploughing and pressing, using a power-harrow/drill combination and only rolling where necessary.
"We run a 24m Sands self-propelled sprayer and can do 350 acres/day," says Mr Bass. "We always plan everything and I keep in close touch with Tim so I can always be there within 24 hours."
Timeliness, a potential problem when adopting the contractor route, is avoided by a good working relationship, says Mr Delamore.
Contract prices are agreed and set for 12 months. "We stick our heads out a bit and sometimes get caught, but I never go back on a deal," says Mr Bass. "And Clive is never late paying which helps the cash flow.
"I think we have pared things to the bone. But I suspect we might be able to cut out a spray which should help."
• Unit cost trimming
• Fertile soil for high output.
• All fieldwork contracted.
• Some stubble weeds tolerated.
• Variety change and seed rate cut.
Combination drill 39.50
Total costs 422.78
Yield (t/ha) 12.36
Unit cost (£/t) 34.21
A three-pronged attack on cereal production costs is helping to boost profitability for Norfolk farmer Clive Delamore (right). His fertile land, the experience of local contractor David Bass (centre) and agronomist Tim Whitakers expertise are proving to be a winning economic combination.