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Talking Arable - Andrew Robinson: A frustrating start to 2016

A mild start to winter has seen us record the warmest January soil temperature since I arrived 11 years ago at 7.5degC, a temperature we would normally associate with March and not January.

Our Basic Payment Scheme payment was conspicuous by its absence but did finally arrive during February, although we have only been given a part-payment with no explanation as to why, so I am just trying to find out some more information from the Rural Payments Agency.

 

This time of year we look at various fungicide options for the wheat and barley and cost them accordingly; there are certain fungicides we know we will use, so these will be purchased by the middle of February.

 

I am, however, somewhat dismayed with the chemical industry at present, farming as a whole is going through tough times and industries which supply us have generally acted accordingly, with some large drops in price of fertiliser and machinery of between 11% and 35%. Yet the chemical industry seems to think it’s acceptable to charge the same or even increase its price for 2016.

 

And to add insult to injury we are all having to apply higher rates of fungicides than in previous years and are getting lower disease control. Remember the days when a half rate Opus + Bravo (epoxiconazole + chlorothalonil) would control most things. Let’s all take the pain now together and then grow when the commodity price will allow.

 

The grain market continues to frustrate, with the reality that the market is unlikely to bounce upwards despite world problems and has left me in a position of having just 28% remaining to sell, having fixed the base price of most of my milling wheat contracts in the last six weeks.

 

On the subject of grain contracts, we genuinely believe growers need to sit around the table with feed and flour mills and renegotiate our position, as there are several issues which need to be addressed.

 

I have long since been an advocate of an averaging system for protein, moisture and hagberg; if 10 loads are sent to the mill then the average results for all those 10 loads are what the grower would be paid on. We all know the mills just blend anyway; there are companies which already do this and we do supply them.

 

 

All mills need to take this fair approach. I have been asked to address a room full of millers later in the year at a private dinner and the ‘averaging’ system is just one point I shall be pressing home.

 

Cabbage stem flea beetle just refuses to go away here in Bedfordshire, with larvae sitting in the leaf/stem axis on plants around the headland in particular.

 

Even though we had neonicotinoid seed dressing for the August 2015 sowing, and while I would say the problem is significantly less than last year with no neonicotinoid seed treatment, we are worried if we are not able to get the dressing again for the coming season then our ability to grow oilseed rape will be under genuine pressure.


Seed dressers arrived in early February to dress the spring beans ready for sowing in March. This year we will be growing Vertigo and Fury. Vertigo is a considerably bigger bean, which means high seed rates will be required to achieve the 50+ plants per metre which we would like to sow.

 

At the time of writing, fertiliser price has just been agreed which means we can get the tanks filled before the end of February. We have never left it this late before but the price just seemed to be reducing almost on a weekly basis, as it should. This is welcome and will mean an 11% decrease in my budgeted nitrogen variable costs.

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