Four important messages from Agronomy 2017

The annual round of Agronomy Workshops have just finished in Scotland, and it’s been pleasing to see a significant increase in attendance, with over 300 coming along over the course of the four meetings. However, it does concern me that the proportion of the audience made up of farmers seems to be decreasing year on year. While agronomists and advisors do an admirable job in keeping their farmers up to date, nothing makes up for hearing the latest ideas and technology first hand.

The theme for the workshops was “Inspire, Integrate, Innovate”, and there were some important messages for me.

  • Industry needs to adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) as a mind-set approach when planning the campaign for the coming growing season. We need to be less reliant on blanket spraying of pesticides and take a more targeted approach to crop management, including varietal selection, spray programmes aligned to individual field and varietal issues and targeted at specific application timings depending on seasonal pressures.
  • Although we have been enjoying higher prices due to currency movements, there has been little change in the global market situation, with a fourth near-record production for cereals. An increase in demand has kept the stocks:use ratio relatively static so watch out for price spikes from currency movements caused by political announcements and be ready to sell on these spikes.
  • Closer to home, the malting barley market seems to be moving into the upward part of its normal cycle, although we need to take care that any advantage isn’t compromised by southern growers who are using spring barley in their fight against black-grass.
  • The Fourth Agricultural Revolution is upon us in the form of technological advances in remote sensing, GNSS guidance and robotics. Precision farming is currently about splitting fields into smaller blocks – in the very near future it will be about individual plant treatment. For Harvest 2017, at Harper Adams University, there will be one hectare of spring barley established, grown and harvested for brewing without a person ever being in the field – watch this space!

The best thing about the workshops was the positive atmosphere in the room – almost a buzz, with trade and growers alike looking forward to the future. A lot more uncertainty for sure, and whilst currency movements have lifted prices over the last few months, they are still at or below cost of production for many producers, with net margins for harvest 2016 similar to that of 2015.

To be profitable, and able to capitalise on the opportunities that will surely arise over the next few years, then farm businesses will have to have the resources to withstand and recover from sudden shocks by themselves, without third party support – they will have to be resilient.

People will have very different views on what’s needed to create a resilient business and in reality it will require a number of different things, but ultimately it’s about taking managed or measured risk in return for reward.

To my mind one of the key things to do when managing risk is to acquire knowledge; increase your capacity to make better informed decisions about your business; to minimise the risk to your business of any negative impact from making that decision. And “aye done that” is not the sort of knowledge I mean!

Acquiring the right knowledge is what attending these workshops, and other similar events is all about – it’s giving you the opportunity to glean that knowledge from a range of research outcomes, specialists and especially fellow farmers. Individually you need to be formulating key messages from what you hear at these events and then contemplate how you can implement them to improve your bottom line.

Today knowledge has power. It controls access to opportunity and advancement. Peter Drucker

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds Manager (Scotland). Previously a business specialist with SAC, working to broaden farmers’ business management skills.

Comments are closed here.