What are the characteristics of a successful grower?
20 April 2015
Farming is a long-term business, and you do not need me to remind you of that. Crops growing now, for which seed and fertiliser was ordered way back in 2014, may not be marketed till 2017. Risk management over this period is a key exercise to protect margin.
As I write this, crops are looking good, not least the flowering rape which is lifting spirits. Disease levels are under control. However, I am generally hearing that full-rate protective programmes are being applied and adding to costs of production. There are many people building towards a cost of production around £135 per tonne for wheat, which is quite scary, given current (and Futures) market prices. This is assuming average yields, which of course is no certainty. Already some crops are ready for a drink but there is no rain forecast. I admit it would be a brave person that starts winding back on inputs now because of lack of certainty over yield and/or price.
There is no magic answer, I am afraid to say. What I do see as a characteristic of the most successful growers, is their attention to detail in every aspect of crop growing and business management, and their thirst for knowledge and progression.
There has been no better place to do this than by attending our Monitor Farm programme. We have had a winter of varied meetings, for which you can find reports on the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds website. The real value is in attendance, where discussions sharing best practice and tackling problems together are most valuable.
A recurring theme has been soil management, whether it is ‘managing’ the bugs within it or getting the right cultivation strategy. From the discussions held, we have planned some ‘try-outs’ of different ideas, techniques, and strategies this season. We will follow the impact of these on the soil, the crops and importantly the margins at following meetings.
The Winchester Monitor Farm group looked at managing fields with three very different types of soil
Another big part of the winter work has been benchmarking with business groups across the region. Our very own CropBench+ tool is now proving invaluable to help lift the lid on the detail of production costs. It’s proving really import for individuals to be able to confidentially review and contrast their own figures in a group environment, as we’re seeing huge variations in figures coming out.
It seems to me that in one way or another, cooperation between growers to reduce unit costs is crucial, and something everyone is going to have to think about. It is not an option to wait for rents to drop or market prices to rise.
My work has also included some other varied dimensions. We had a trip to the Warminster Maltings, the oldest in the UK, with a guided tour from Robin Appel. It is very important to understand a market if you are going to grow for it.
An expert at work levelling the grain by hand over a large area. Next lot of grain above.
One of the more challenging afternoons was a two-hour visit with 40 five to seven year olds talking about how crops crop and the ‘grain chain’. I was very relieved to be able to dig my son’s farm toys out of the attic to animate the session and keep them engaged. It was a trip down memory lane playing with them too!
It was great to see the enthusiasm of the young. But, equally, it has been great to work with enthusiastic growers of all ages striving for a better future, even if we can only guess what that will hold.