Time to consider introducing new crops into your arable rotations?

Growers looking for guidance on whether they should consider introducing newcomer crops into their rotation to improve profitability can seek advice from Strutt & Parker’s team of agronomists at CropTec.

Arable crop production is set to get tougher in the UK, with margins likely to tighten as direct payments are phased out as part of the Agricultural Bill. The chemical control of pests, weeds and diseases is also becoming more challenging, due to the reduction in available chemistry and growing resistance problems.

Jock Willmott, farm consultant and agronomist, said another factor was climate change, which threatens to disrupt traditional growing patterns.

“The UK has typically enjoyed moderate and predictable weather across all seasons, with reasonable amounts of sunshine and rainfall throughout the year,” he said.

“Climate change for the UK is likely to mean this predictability will be slowly eroded and be replaced with extreme events of prolonged drought or excess rainfall.

“Higher summer temperatures have the potential to induce more crop stress, reducing quality and yields. At the same time, earlier springs, longer growing seasons and warmer autumns could open up the potential to grow new crops not yet widely grown in the UK.”

Mr Willmott said agrochemicals was another issue, leading to problems in controlling grassweeds and insect pests.

“Two generations of broadacre farming, facilitated by a production line of innovative and effective new crop protection products, has come to an end.”

Mr Willmott said it was clear that things would be changing and as a result, growers would want to re-examine their rotations.

“A rotation that adds yield and saves costs is a must. However, the rotation needs to do more – it needs to be resistant to extremes of weather and the crops, so far as possible, need to complement each other to improve soil microflora, reduce soil borne pests and diseases. They also need to offer opportunities to improve drainage and reduce the grass weed burden. But most of all, they need to be profitable.

“The optimum rotation length for oilseed rape, peas, beans, sugar beet and potatoes is one crop in six years. But extending the rotation on many farms leaves the farm short of crop options.”

So what alternative crops might be a possibility for growers?

Soya – Soya is a legume currently grown in the UK as an ingredient for animal feed and as a source of quality vegetable protein. Experience to date suggests that pigeons can be a real problem and the fact it is not harvested until late September/early October means it is best kept on lighter to medium land. However, the crop takes little chemical input and is certainly one to watch.

Lupins – Contracts are available to grow lupins for inclusion in animal feeds. Current prices are c £225/t, yielding a similar gross margin to peas and beans with the advantage of very little chemical input once established.

Grain maize – Maize grown for grain has two main outlets. The largest market is where the grain is milled or crimped when moist and substituted for wheat in a livestock ration. The second smaller market is to dry the kernels for the bird and pet food market. Maize is a crop that thrives in dry conditions. Greater levels of sunlight could open up the potential to grow more of this in the UK.

Millet – Contracts to grow white millet are currently available from several UK sources. The crop is very straightforward to grow – two early splits of nitrogen and a post-emergence broadleaved weed killer is all that is required. Slightly later to harvest than spring beans the crop offers a reasonable entry for a winter cereal where the volunteer millet can be controlled relatively cheaply.

Visit the Strutt & Parker stand at CropTec to find out more about the agronomic and financial considerations associated with growing alternative crops.

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