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Arable

No better time to control black-grass Many are anticipating big changes for UK farmers after Brexit. What those changes will be isn’t clear, but industry experts are suggesting the next two years are an opportunity to get land and finances in order for whatever happens after 2020. “We don’t know what the situation is going to be in three years’ time,” says Andersons Farm Business Consultants’ Graham Redman. “But if there are changes that can improve your farm, why wait?” he asks. Two of the biggest challenges many arable farms face are controlling black-grass and managing fixed costs. Both require a detailed look at the farm system, according to arable farmer and Agrii regional technical adviser, David Felce (right). “People worry a lot about variable costs but don’t always look at the fixed costs. This can be for various reasons but it can make it difficult to react to market conditions because the farm isn’t very flexible.” To improve profitability, the temptation is to cut variable costs on agchem and fertiliser because it is easy to do but the only way to make a big dent in the cost per tonne is optimising yield. This reduces fixed costs by diluting across more tonnes sold. Machinery, distant land parcels and sometimes labour are the most common items that can put a strain on fixed costs. “The other thing many people are worried about is black-grass,” says Mr Felce. “Most of the changes needed to control black-grass are cultural methods such as rotation and cultivation practices. Changing these could affect fixed costs

because there may be investment in machinery and other equipment. If you’re reviewing black-grass control, look at the impact on fixed costs as well as variable costs, gross margin and cashflow in order to build a clearer understanding of the implications. “The bigger picture is that we don’t know the future financial arrangements for agriculture from 2020. Added to that, there are question marks over the availability of chemistry due to regulation, so now is the time to use what is available to get the land and your business in the best shape possible.”

Profitability focus Mr Redman agrees that controlling black-grass should be a calculated decision firmly focused on profitability. “The cheapest way to control black-grass is to prevent it getting out of hand, although this point has passed for some people,” he says. “Whenever we go on to a farm, we use a calculator to decide on black-grass control. We factor in the cost of agchem to keep it under control, yield losses and crop values from changing rotation. Profitability is the aim rather than a simple target for zero black-grass which is difficult and expensive to achieve.” It costs around £907/ha to grow winter wheat, according to figures from Andersons, John Nix and Bayer internal market research. The graph above breaks the costs down into

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Fixed costs

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are more complicated because there is some degree of resistance. However, it is rare to find a blackgrass population where Atlantis does not offer any control, and because it is so important to reduce the weed population as much as possible, post-emergence herbicides still have an important role to play in finishing off the programme. “As a boost, growers can turn to the newer option Hamlet (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron + diflufenican), which provides 5–10 per cent better control than Atlantis WG on average. “As David says, variable costs like herbicide have less total impact on the cost of production than fixed costs. The aim for the variable costs is to invest in the best agchem and fertiliser programme for the optimum yield.” ■ 56147

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the main areas of expenditure. Fixed costs are the biggest single expense but within the industry there is huge variability between farms which does not correlate with yield variation. “We decided to research farm costs because we know, certainly in the past, growers have thought about weed control in terms of herbicide cost,” says Bayer’s Ben Coombs. “But with many now using cultural controls to manage blackgrass, the cost implications are far wider than just the herbicide inputs.” Mr Coombs agrees with David Felce that now is a good opportunity to improve black-grass control and that any decisions should have a sound business case. “Ten years ago, Atlantis (mesosulfuron + iodosulfuron) was providing 90–100 per cent control so the case for using it was self-evident. Now, things

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The costs of growing winter wheat

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www.farmersguide.co.uk December 2017

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Farmers Guide December 2017  

Farmers Guide Magazine December 2017 Issue