Lessons for 2015

7 October 2014

As you read this, most of you will be finished or just tidying up the 2014 harvest – the majority will be pleased (especially if they sold early). Some will be frustrated, knowing they could have done better. Some will be disappointed because they thought the crops looked better than they turned out – and spare a thought for the struggle that some farmers had in Moray, after the impact of hurricane Bertha.

Whatever your thoughts, now is the time to reflect on the 2014 growing season and take note of lessons learned for the 2015 season – because there have certainly been plenty lessons to learn from.

We started the season with well-established crops, but carrying over a high degree of disease, the pressure from which never really reduced all season. Many of those who didn’t apply a T0 never quite managed to get on top of disease for the rest of the season. If a spray timing was delayed, or even applied early, the efficacy of the chemical seemed to be considerably reduced. In the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds RL trials the yield penalty for untreated vs treated was W Wheat 42%; W Barley 22%; S Barley 18%.

The high disease pressure has tested both the grower’s resources and their attention to detail in their management, as well as the chemicals themselves. The coming winter meetings such as the AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds/SRUC Agronomy 2015 events should provide much food for thought with some useful insights in to how SDHI’s have ranked in their first real pressure season; how successful septoria control has been; which varieties have been hardest hit and which have stood up best.

Perhaps the discussion at winter meetings will suggest we need to question our obsession with total yield and pay more attention to varietal disease resistance. As business managers, we need to build resilient farm businesses to mitigate existing risk such as changing weather patterns and volatile markets. Declining chemistry and weak varietal resistance merely combine to exert even greater risk on farm businesses. SAOS are running resilience workshops over the winter – if you get the opportunity, they are well worth going to.

So what’s the other big lesson from 2014? I dread to mention p…e, so let’s call it marketing! The return from marketing your crop now, and likely to be for at least the next few months, will be poor. It will be below the cost of production for many growers. But the opportunity to sell wheat at £165 – £168 was there earlier this year – how many took it?

JFK, in a speech to farmers at the US National Ploughing Championships in 1960, said: “the farmer is the only man in our economy who has to buy everything he buys at retail, sell everything he sells at wholesale,  and pay the freight both ways.” It’s not changed much since.

A good marketing strategy will go some way to making that change. If you would like to find out more about a marketing strategy, AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds run examples on the website with actual prices, or if you regularly sell your grain to a reputable merchant, speak to them.

The key thing over the next couple of months is to reflect on your own season – what went right; what went wrong. Make sure you target the meetings and events over the winter which will give you the knowledge and information you need to make the improvements for next season.

Gavin Dick - Scotland

Gavin Dick - Scotland

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