8 March 2002


Do you know what it will cost to grow one tonne of wheat on your farm this year? Four

finalists from previous farmers weekly/BASF Unit Cost Challenge competitions have a

good idea and are now competing to produce wheat at the lowest cost/tonne for this

years competition. Once everything was drilled, we asked them to pick the field they

felt would do best. Andrew Swallow gives a first report on their choices

N. Lincs lean and mean

HOW little can you spend on a crop of wheat and still produce a reasonable yield? Christopher Moore aims to find out with his Unit Cost Challenge entry, a field of November-drilled Savannah at Fleet Farm, West Butterwick in Lincs.

"With wheat falling below £60/t, you have got to look very hard at how much you are spending on it. Besides that, I wanted to try something a little bit unusual for the competition," he says.

Savannah has performed well on the farm in the late drilled spot before, a fact backed up by its late drilled rating on the Recommended List, he says.

Sown on Nov 7 following beetroot, the operational cost of establishing the Challenge crop was below £500 for the 18ha (44 acre) field, he estimates. "It was all done in one day, with one man ploughing and pressing and the other drilling with a combination drill."

Seed was bought in dressed with Sibutol (bitertanol + fuberidazole) plus Evict (tefluthrin) and drilled at 150kg/ha (1.2cwt/acre). "I probably should have farm-saved for the competition, but we were drilling at a time of year when we are flat out and needed the bulb-fly treatment."

Nothing has been spent since. Weed control will be on a look-see basis and the fungicide regime could well focus on older chemistry. Earlier drilled first wheat on the farm, mostly Claire and Consort this year, averages 10t/ha (4t/acre), but the Challenge crop may only do 7.5-8t/ha, he says. "But it looks to have established well and may be the crop that makes us most money in the end."

Champs max-yield field

LAST years winner, Mark Means, plans to push his chosen crop to the limit of its yield potential to cover increased overhead costs on the family farm at Terrington Marsh, near Kings Lynn.

That yield aim ruled out Claire and Tanker when fields were selected for the Challenge just after Christmas. A field of old favourite Consort, sown on Sept 12 after vining peas, will be used to defend his title.

"We looked at the Claire but if we want to push it we have to keep the crop standing and I dont feel we know enough about Tanker yet," he says.

Three passes were made to establish the crop, a quick skim over with a Lemken Terra-Disc to work in pea haulm, then a pass with a five-leg flat-lift and packer to leave a weatherproof surface ready for drilling with the farms Moore Uni-Drill.

A new Case MX270, used to pull the flat-lift and the drill, has put the establishment cost up a little from last year at £53/ha, he says. "It puts the pressure on to get a big yield."

A three-strob fungicide programme is planned, but a T0 spray will be avoided if at all possible. "There is some septoria in it, but it is not too bad. Ive got a budget and I know what I am going to spend on it. The only worry is whether it will fall down."

Seed was home-saved which, at the 62kg/ha rate used, pruned about £4/ha off the total cost and at least the target population of 90-100 plants/sq m was achieved. "There are 15-20 tillers/plant now."

Claire ousts Consort

LINCS farm manager James Brook has chosen the same field as the 2000 crop which he entered in last years Challenge, but Claire has replaced Consort as the variety.

"It is a clay loam – one of the heavier soils on the farm – which could be important because we are surely due a dry summer soon. We like Claire for the early drilling slot and have had good results with it in the past."

Following spring oilseed rape, the clay loam field on AM Duguid and Sons Norton Place Estate, near Market Rasen, was sub-soiled, disced twice, drilled with a combination drill and rolled, giving a total operational establishment cost of £76.60/ha.

"We normally plough for wheat because we have FYM to plough in or we are following forage maize, but we needed a quick turnaround after the oilseed rape and it is quite strong land so we went for the discs," says Mr Brook.

The home-saved seed was sown on Sep 16 at 101kg/ha to give 224 seeds/sq m and a cost of £14.35/ha including Sibutol dressing. An autumn herbicide of 4 litres/ha ipu plus 1 litre/ha of cmpp went on in late October to combat grassweeds and volunteer oilseed rape, while cypermethrin was included to keep BYDV-bearing aphids at bay.

As of mid-February, the crop had 620 tillers/sq m. "Thats ideal really. We want 600 ears/sq m."

Mr Brook is in no hurry to apply nitrogen to the crop but a little will probably be applied just pre-GS30 to sustain tiller numbers.

Some mildew in the crop will need keeping an eye on and may merit a pre-T1 spray.

Optimistic with Option

FLOODS have robbed Borders grower Peter Robertsons Challenge entry of some yield already at Palace Farm in the Teviot Valley, near Jedburgh.

However, he is still optimistic the October-sown Option can match last years unit cost of £19.65/t.

"The river was over 30 acres of our land at one point and I reckon weve lost half an acre," he says. But that is a small proportion of the 14.5ha (39 acre) field and most of the crop is growing well now, he adds.

Despite a double-break from cereals – the field was in potatoes two years ago and spring oilseed rape last year – sowing was deliberately delayed to minimise disease and weed pressure. "The only thing I want to do in the autumn is sow the seed," he says.

Bought-in Sibutol-dressed seed was drilled on Oct 26 at 130 seeds/sq m, giving a seed cost of £17/ha (£7/acre).

Plough, power-harrow and drill establishment costs should be similar to last year and the field is on course to at least come close to last years Option yield of 9.45t/ ha (3.8t/acre), he believes. &#42

Challenge crops

James Brook, farm manager at Norton Place, nr Market Rasen, Lincs.Soil: Clay Loam Variety: Claire Drilling date: Sept 16

Mark Means, The Laurels, Terrington St Clement, Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Soil: Silt Variety: Consort Drilling date: Sept 12

Christopher Moore, Fleet Farm, West Butterwick, Lincs Soil: Silt Variety: Savannah Drilling date: Nov 7

Peter Robertson, Palace Farm, Jedburgh, Scottish Borders. Soil: Clay loam Variety: Option Drilling date: Oct 26

Sponsors message

BASF is delighted to again sponsor the Unit Cost Challenge Competition. Over the past two years, the competition has shown cereals can be grown profitably in the UK, despite the difficult marketplace. This year we are launching new cereal fungicide Opera, based on F500, to complement existing products Landmark and Opus. To reflect their contribution to lowering unit cost of production we have asked past challenge winners to compete to be "lowest of the low". By focusing on crops in the ground we hope the articles will help you fine-tune your own crop management this season. BASFs aim, as always, is to provide you with the tools – this competition is all about how to use them.

&#8226 Contestants and their agronomists are vying for a prize of fungicide product for the 2003 season, plus the Unit Cost Challenge trophy.

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