Maximise yield to maximise profit
I have never subscribed to the concept that yield is king, but evidence has been growing that in a low price era yield does indeed trump all other aspects. At the AHDB-run business groups across Scotland where farmers come together to discuss their production costs the data is unequivocal – the highest yielding farms boast the highest margins. That is not to say that farmers should prioritise yield at all costs, but they should concentrate on growing as much tonnage as they can to ensure they cover their fixed costs.
Fixed costs are not what they once were, they now outweigh input costs by a sizeable margin with 65% of business spend going on machinery, labour, buildings, rent, and so on, with just 35% left over for inputs like fertilisers, fungicides and seeds. However, scrimping on those areas will not benefit the bottom line, for example there is generally a cost benefit to using a full fungicide programme, although only if it is managed correctly.
Focus spend on two areas critical to boosting yield – crop nutrition and crop protection. In terms of nutrition this is really about ensuring the nutrients in the soil and the plant are at optimum levels. Micronutrients like copper, zinc, manganese and boron are no less important than the macronutrients like phosphate and nitrogen, they are just required in smaller quantities.
While soil sampling gives farmers an indication of nutrient levels in the soils, tissue sampling the crop later in the season will show which of these are actually making it into the plant.
When it comes to crop protection it would be worthwhile checking the fungicide performance data AHDB produces annually for wheat, barley and oilseed rape. The information produced explains how to make the best of various fungicides, according to disease pressures and developing resistance issues. One of the products tested recently was Bayer’s Ascra Xpro, a new fungicide for wheat which performed strongly against septoria, outperforming Aviator Xpro (also made by Bayer).
Of course the key to planning for high yields is up to date and relevant information, which will be available at the annual Agronomy workshops run across Scotland in January. This year AHDB will run these jointly with the Farm Advisory Services programme, and they will feature the usual expert features from SRUC such as Professor Fiona Burnett, who will advise on crop protection, and Julian Bell, who will speak about the cereals market in 2017. To book your place visit the AHDB website.