Controlling the cost of cultivations

Attending the Tillage Live event this autumn there is all manner of soil moving kit on show. While peer pressure may lead you to reduce cultivations, a day at this event will make you feel ploughing is an obvious choice.

Case-IH Quadtrac with a fully mounted 6 metre combination drill

Case-IH Quadtrac with a fully mounted 6 metre combination drill

But who is right? Is it time for radical change, a tweak around the edges or no change necessary? Farming for worms is all well and good, but are they helping pay the rent?  Some would argue yes.

Without doubt, cost control is vital for any business and the future will sharpen the focus for agriculture.

If you are seriously looking to curb costs, before changing the system take a look at the way you run the operation. It will tell you a lot about your own mindset.

At AHDB, we ran some research on machinery costings across the Monitor Farm network. Stretching from Morayshire to Truro the sheer range of costs associated growing a cereal crop is the most surprising. So what puts farmers in the top 25 per cent of cost control without risking productivity?

Low depreciation costs per hectare: This is the highest cost for any arable farm. The top 25 per cent ran the correct size of machinery for the operation in hand and brought in contractors in a planned way. Machines were also kept for seven years or longer and replaced as part of an on-going plan.

Low repair costs per hectare: The research found that running newer machinery is no guarantee of low repair costs. It’s important to separate maintenance costs and repair costs. Farms running older machinery hire key machines such as main line tractors and combines. Careful monitoring of older machinery and planned replacement is again key.

Low diesel usage per hectare: The second largest cost behind depreciation is fuel. The top 25 per cent of farms researched used less than 100 l fuel per cropped hectare. Recreational cultivations will sure prevent you achieving this figure.

Low machine costs per hour: This is a tricky one. It’s a balance between the right sized machine and hours worked. Having an expensive machine and running in on non-paying work is simply a cost to the business. So correct size, use on other enterprises and/or contracting can bring tractor costs per hour £17 to £24/hr for a 190 to 240 HP tractor.

Low cost of combining per hectare: Adjusting for your region (Essex is drier than Cumbria); aim for 200 drum hours in a season. The top 25 per cent of monitor farmers covered more hectares, with 70ha per metre of cutter bar. The cheapest combine to operate a 15-year-old 7.3m combine cut 569 ha (78 ha per metre of cutter bar).

Read more: AHDB has revealed eight key factors that are the hallmarks of high performing farm businesses in a new report



Based at Ashkam Bryan near York, Harry grew up on a beef farm in his native north Wales. Subsequently, Harry developed an interest in farm machinery that took him around the world working in agriculture. Having managed a plant breeding farm near Cambridge for Monsanto, in 2005 Harry joined John Deere as Crop Systems Specialist, from where he was recruited by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.