Coping with Crop Diversification - Agrii - Connecting Agri-science with farming

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June 9, 2014

Coping with Crop Diversification

The so-called three crop rule need be nowhere near the issue for most British growers that many have feared, believes Agrii head of farm business consultancy, Paul Pickford.

His assessment of the crop diversification regulations coming into force from next January shows that little or no rotational change will be necessary for vast majority of arable farms; especially if, as seems likely, the rules will be applied on a farm business rather than holding basis.

Equally, he is convinced that wherever issues do arise they can be addressed by changes to current rotations that his newly-developed Agrii Enterprise Planner shows are unlikely to have any negative impact on farm margins.

“Crop diversification is very manageable for almost everyone,” he stressed. “Even for most of those not currently growing three crops, it only affects a very small proportion of the farmed area – in most cases just the 5% that has to be in a third crop. Not only that but there are plenty of rotational solutions available, many of which at least maintain arable margins while offering a number of other valuable benefits.

“It’s all a matter of looking at your set-up closely and, if necessary, assessing the many options you have for your particular business in an open-minded way with the right guidance. That’s why we’ve equipped all our agronomists with the new computer-based planner linked to our extensive and regularly updated enterprise costings database.”

Paul Pickford has employed the planner to explore the implications of several options for the arable businesses likely to be most affected by the three crop rule – those currently running wheat/wheat/rape rotations or growing continuous wheat. And he finds the results particularly encouraging.

For a typical 200 ha winter wheat and winter rape business, for instance, at reasonable yields, crop values and input costs swapping 10 ha of second wheat for spring wheat or rape to satisfy the three crop requirement will, his analyses show, make little, if any, difference to the whole farm gross margin (Table 1). As will taking 50 ha out of 200 ha of continuous wheat growing to establish a second rotation of winter barley and spring wheat, with the alternative of 75 ha rotated between winter wheat, winter barley and oilseed rape actually delivering a significant margin increase (Table 2).

“These simple comparisons show how little negative impact the three crop rule is likely to have for most growers, even if rotational changes are required,” pointed out Mr Pickford.  “What’s more, they don’t account for the fact that the least productive or most troublesome second wheat land will almost certainly be used for the spring cropping, allowing far better grass weed control. Add in the spread in key operations like drilling, spraying and harvesting that spring cropping enables and easing workload pinch points at critical times in the season is likely to deliver further benefits.

Table 1: Wheat/Wheat/Rape Alternative Margin Comparisons

Cropping

Area (ha)

Yield (t/ha)

Gross margin (£)

First winter wheat (feed)

67

10.0

 
Second winter wheat

66

8.0

Winter oilseed rape

67

4.0

Total gross margin

143,318

 

 

First winter wheat (feed)

67

10.0

 

Second winter wheat

56

8.0

 

Winter oilseed rape

67

4.0

 
Spring wheat (milling)

10

6.0

 

Total gross margin

143,885

 

First winter wheat (feed)

67

10.0

Second winter wheat

56

8.0

Winter oilseed rape

67

4.0

Spring oilseed rape

10

3.2

Total gross margin

 

 

143,241

Assuming feed wheat prices of £137/t and OSR prices of £266/t


Table 2: Continuous Wheat Alternative Margin Comparisons

Cropping

Area (ha)

Yield (t/ha)

Gross margin (£)

Continuous winter wheat (feed)

200

9.0

 
Total gross margin

136,330

 

 

Continuous winter wheat (feed)

150

9.0

 

Winter barley (feed)

25

8.0

 

Spring wheat (milling)

25

6.0

 

Total gross margin

136,574

 

 

Continuous winter wheat (feed)

125

9.0

 

First winter wheat (feed)

25

10.0

 

Winter barley (feed)

25

8.0

 

Winter oilseed rape

25

4.0

 

Total gross margin

 

 

158,787

Assuming feed wheat prices of £137/t and OSR prices of £266/t

“Of course, it’s easy to play around with average figures,” Paul Pickford acknowledged.  “What you really need to do is sit down with your agronomist and use our planner to work through the most practicable options for your own farm using your cropping records, costs and experience, taking into account any crop storage and marketing or machinery and workload implications of possible changes.

“That way you can see for yourself exactly how much – or how little – the diversification requirements will actually affect you, and decide your best course of action ahead of autumn planting so you have everything in place for January 2015.

“In fact, regardless of the new rules, I would strongly recommend as many growers as possible undertake this sort of exercise.  My clients and I have invariably found looking a little bit harder at what we’re doing and what it’s delivering against a range of practical alternatives is very instructive. More often than not, it prompts changes which prove extremely worthwhile.”