Blog by David Lines
Twitter: @LinesDavid
Biog: An agronomist for 35 years, independent for nine years, a member of AICC, including on the council and AICC trials committee. Covering North Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Powys and Shropshire. Mainly advising mixed farms growing cereals, OSR, pulses, forage crops including maize, fodder beet and grassland. David worked for a distribution company until 2006. David is a member of Farmadvisors’ buying group, is married with three daughters and Max, a mad Cocker spaniel!
Western cropping choices and business outlook
The biggest single issue for my customers is making a profit from the current prices and from an agronomic point of view, black-grass is a growing headache. Both of these issues are driving a reduction in the oilseed rape area and a switch to more spring barley. The costs of production for spring barley are lower and it’s a very useful way to reduce blackgrass, as are stubble turnips on mixed farms. With the combined challenge of flea beetle and tight margins, oilseed rape is most definitely in question on a growing number of farms.
Variety choice over here in the west is driven by consistency in performance and the practicalities of the rotation, for example, Leeds is a very useful option for late drilled wheat after maize. JB Diego is popular because it ‘does’ well over here in the wetter west where good disease resistance – particularly Septoria – and consistent yields are crucial. Also popular wheat choices are Reflection, Skyfall, Costello and Lili. For winter barley, Glacier, Tower and Volume are by far the most popular.
Looking ahead to the coming years, cropping on mixed farms is likely to remain pretty much as it is, but there is a real drive to look for more profitable options and approaches. I fully envisage that arable ground may be let out, or cropped on a share-farming/contract basis as machinery costs continue to rise and skilled labour becomes in shorter supply.
Precision farming is certainly going to play an important part in the future, despite the challenges of our small field sizes and extensive applications of farm yard manure over here. Certainly variable rate seed and nitrogen applications are increasingly being used and will play a vital role in maximising margins as well as environmental compliance.
As pressure on farmers grows to produce more from less (land, water and profit), the investment in technology for the future of farming is vital. For me this needs to focus on no-til farming and a real concerted effort at ensuring a decent, workable broadband OR mobile service in rural areas.
Future R&D needs to focus on ALL aspects of production, not just the reliance on chemicals. The current blackgrass situation has brought it home to a lot of farmers that their current cropping approach is not sustainable. Also, we might all have to accept that countries like Ukraine has become more developed and that they can produce wheat more competitively than we can in the UK. If this is the case, farmers will need to 1) specialise in other crops/systems and 2) collaborate much more than they are. The move of some farmers into niche markets such as crisps, vodka, or herbs for the domestic Asian markets, will certainly increase in the quest for added value and better returns.
Over the coming decades the political and environmental pressure from Westminster and the EU will become tougher I’m sure – including restrictions on cropping and the use of chemistry. Added to this, some of these decisions will make the EU and the UK less competitive versus countries with less restriction.
One final thought on something that’s of fundamental importance to the future of British production agriculture – we all need to play our part in educating the public that food comes from farms, not the supermarkets, and that this is really important for the future of food supply.
CropTec 2015
Want to find out more about the latest technology & innovation, precision farming and research and development in the arable sector? make sure you visit CropTec on Tuesday 24th & Wednesday 25th November, East of England Showgorund, Peterborough.
To encourage knowledge exchange among the British farming community further, this year’s event is FREE for farmers to attend. You MUST pre-register online to ensure you receive your free place.