The latest results from ProCam’s 4Cast data could offer growers a route to greater profitability, says the company. Dominic Kilburn reports.
Farmers should focus on improving the performance and financial sustainability of their businesses by increasing production efficiency and attention to detail in every farming decision.
This will avoid a potential over reliance on support payments which could fall in the future.
That was the opening message from agronomy firm ProCam’s UK managing director John Bianchi (left), ahead of a presentation of the company’s most recent 4Cast farm data results.
He said that the collection of farm performance data in 4Cast, a crop database that gathers information from around 30,000ha, is a means of looking for trends and patterns to help provide pointers for the future.
“We find out what the top performing farmers are doing, and see how they are doing it,” he added.
According to Mr Bianchi, average wheat yield in 2017 among the top 25 per cent performing 4Cast growers was 10.4t/ha, compared with the Defra average for that year (8.3t/ha). He pointed out that at a value of £150/t the increase in yield was worth an extra £315/ha.
“£315/ha is more than current support payments of £218/ha and even the average winter wheat yield for 4Cast growers equated to an extra £135/ha income compared with the Defra figure, which itself would help offset any fall in support payments.
“It is do-able,” stressed Mr Bianchi. “We want farmers to get into the position whereby they are not so reliant on support payments.
“As agronomists, that’s what we are trying to do but the main pre-requisite for improvement is attention to detail in every decision you make on a field level,” he said.
Referring to crop profitability figures (2017), ProCam head of crop production Nick Myers (left) suggested that, while winter oilseed rape remained the most profitable combinable crop option for all 4Cast growers, winter wheat, spring wheat and oilseed rape were the only crops that made money without support payments for average growers. He pointed out that to be profitable across a whole range of different crops without reliance on support payments, growers had to be among the top performers.
Furthermore, he said that average 4Cast performers were growing a crop at a cost of £52/t, whereas the top 25 per cent was doing it at £40/t. “I think cost of production is often an area that farmers are uncertain of, but clearly it is costing less for a top 25 per cent producer,” commented Mr Myers.
When comparing variable cost spend (harvest 2017 season); the top 25 per cent spent about £50/ha less than the other 75 per cent, although the distribution of spend between seed, sprays and fertiliser was similar in both groups.
“They are all using the same products on their farms but the difference in performance is coming down to attention to detail in terms of crop management and timings etc., in order to get the best out of what they are doing,” he explained.
According to Mr Myers, when considering the influence of a preceding crop on following crop yield (harvest 2017), 4Cast growers had reported that spring barley had delivered a negative affect when the following crop was oilseed rape. “This is important, particularly in light of spring barley being grown to counteract black-grass,” he said. “Last year’s harvest was delayed and it was relatively wet and so machines travelling on fields may have caused damage and, with the spring barley staying longer in the ground, it may have taken more nutrition out of the soil.
“SU herbicides are going on later in spring barley and residue build-up in the soil may also have an impact on the following rape crop,” said Mr Myers.
“Clearfield OSR varieties could be an option to counter this, as well as DAP fertiliser to help OSR to get away in the autumn.
“I’ve also done work looking at biostimulants which have shown a benefit to OSR establishment,” he added.
ProCam seeds and traits technical manager, Mike Thornton (left), pointed out that average drill date for 4Cast growers in 2011 was 2nd October, while last year it was 12th October.
“The delay in drilling to get better control of black-grass doesn’t seem to be impacting on yield, however while we saw a spike in drilling dates for the top 25 per cent of growers occurring in the third week in October (harvest 2017 season), the remaining 75 per cent favoured the first week in October.”
The top 25 per cent also had a lower spend on herbicides (£88/ha) compared with the rest (£112/ha).
“It doesn’t necessarily mean the top 25 per cent are on top of black-grass, but they are going later with their applications when soil temperatures are generally lower, resulting in slower degradation of herbicides, and when there is more moisture available.”
Nick Myers concluded by urging growers with increasingly stretched drilling dates to look beyond the yield figures when selecting varieties from the Recommended List this season.
“The fall off in yield potential between drilling in September and later in the season is relatively small, but the crop has to go into a good seedbed and be a variety that is specifically suited for that drill timing.”