As featured in Arable Farming Magazine
Putting more transparency in crop production
by Arable Farming Magazine May issue
A platform aimed at putting buying power back into the hands of growers now allows users to scrutinise every single crop management decision through its new live tracking and benchmarking feature.
As prices fluctuate, Yagro’s online platform has become a useful place for business owners to benchmark the price they are paying for their inputs.
But thanks to new developments from the data company, users can now live track crop production budgets and compare them to other farms.
Yagro launched PriceCheck in 2017 as a place for farmers to see how their chemical and other input prices compare to how much others are buying them for, helping them to question what and how they are buying and giving them more power in negotiations with their suppliers.
Since then, the company has built its Analytics platform which takes in a farm’s variable costs, incorporating details such as sales data, contracts, products applied in Gatekeeper and yield maps, so users can benchmark their cost of production against the same crop of another user.
Yagro’s Rupert Harlow says: “The farm then sees that for winter wheat they’re producing at £51/tonne, for example, when some farms are producing it at £44/t or £74/t.”
The system currently covers more than 340,000 hectares and carries data for most crops, including all major arable crops, potatoes, vegetables, sugar beet and some top fruit, with data spanning back to 2015/2016.
Strengths Costs can be broken down into categories such as herbicides, fertilisers or how each individual variety or field is performing to see where a businesses’ strengths and weaknesses lie.
“A farm can then see that some varieties may cost £100/t to produce rather than £40/t, for example,” says Mr Harlow.
“If it’s not a milling spec, why spend more? They can delve into why, if it’s supposed to be a clean variety, they’re spending £17/t on fungicides when other farms are spending just £6/t.
“You may be drilling at 200kg/ha but the median is 170kg/ha – you might see that by reducing your seed rate to the same value you’d save £17/ha.
Just by putting a figure on it helps you see the financial impact of everything you do.”
Once there is three years’ of information from a farm, users can start to hone in on individual field performance, which could be particularly valuable as parts of the farm may be considered for new environmental schemes.
Useful However, it is the new in-season tracking feature, Tracker, which Mr Harlow says will be particularly useful this season in particular.
“With the price of everything at the moment it will help growers understand what they’ve budgeted for and what’s actually going to be cost-effective for the farm.
This means users can follow the performance of their crop throughout the season and use the information provided to inform future decisions.
With live commodity prices also incorporated, they can see how much of their crop has been sold, at what price and what they need to do to get a good margin on that crop.”
The platform also allows users to set alerts on any of the main market features.
“This means users can look at trends in the market, for example the price of glyphosate.
This will help when reporting to seniors within the business or when setting alerts to know when the price drops back below £3/litre, for example.”
In the field Cranborne Farms, Dorset
Despite the move towards more traditional farming methods, 1,200-hectare Cranborne Farms is making the most of modern technology to support decision-making.
At harvest last year, the estate achieved a winter bean cost of production of just £36/tonne according to Yagro’s data.
Beans had not been grown for a few years on the farm but with a desire to split autumn and spring cropping 50/50 to spread workload and feed barley not stacking up financially, they made a comeback in 2020/21.
With total chemical costs of £65/ha for the crop, farm manager, Tom Dart explains how he kept inputs so low.
“In February we had a couple of weeks of really cold weather which really nailed the beans.
With that and the dry March, they didn’t look like they were going to meet the potential we had budgeted for, limiting what we wanted to invest into them.
When it warmed up and they got going, they flowered well and the pod sets were fantastic.”
Weather conditions meant that Mr Dart, who is also a qualified agronomist, risked not applying a chocolate spot spray, which he says paid off in this instance and overall fungicides were just £4/ha.
“We were keeping an eye on weather conditions that would lead to chocolate spot and held back from spraying and fortunately never needed to.
Having taken that agronomy decision in-house suits us in that we have complete control of our approach to risk.
Planning “We invested in a Metos weather system to help with planning around the weather, which should help us target our use of actives more, again using data to make those decisions.
“We are implementing new technologies rather than relying on something that has traditionally come out of a can or fertiliser sack.”
Alongside this approach, the farm is looking to integrate more traditional practices by expanding mob grazing on arable land and introducing an area of agroforestry.
“It goes back to a more traditional rotation but using modern technologies to make sure it is done as efficiently as possible,” Mr Dart says.
The 80% chalk downland and 20% loamy clay estate is part of the Martin Down Farmer Cluster, which has a significant influence on cropping plans.
“There are species on the farm we are really trying to promote, including grey partridge, turtle doves and wildflowers among others.
The way we lay out our cropping is all done to encourage those species to thrive here.
We also actively look to avoid using insecticides where possible.
“We are looking closely at the returns we are getting on for example, fungicides.
We look at the money we spend on that and see if it is adding value or if there are cultural control methods we can incorporate to get the same return on investment.
We look at the science behind why you would use a product and if there isn’t enough risk to the crop to justify using a product, we don’t use it.”
The farm is also entering new markets and looking to do more direct sales, which were previously all done through grain traders.
Last season it sold 30% of its wheat direct to a dairy farm and is starting to diversify away from traditional commodity markets in multiple ways, including heritage wheat for local artisan bakers, 67ha of maple peas that go direct to the pigeon market and 20ha of naked oats growing with Flamingo peas for wasabi pea snacks.
These will be harvested at the same time and split out, with the peas exported to Japan for the snack market and the oats going to bird seed mixes via Cope Seeds.