Talking Arable with Andrew Robinson: A year of change

A year of change both politically and agriculturally is how I would sum up 2016. Four things have dominated discussions among arable farmers locally in 2016, firstly, and not surprisingly, the weather has been the talking point all year from a cold spring to a wet June and then near arid conditions from early July until the second week of November.


Secondly, Brexit, which has so far proved positive, with an increase in both grain prices and the 2016 Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claim.


Thirdly, the BPS itself. We had problems like many others in receiving our full settlement; however we have now, after providing evidence, been paid all outstanding monies from our 2015 claim, but I know not everybody has been quite so lucky.


And last but by no means least black-grass; this year’s infestation seems to have been the worst many have ever seen and was by far the biggest topic of conversation from May till harvest.


At present I am very happy with how all the crops and spring ground look. Wheat has all established well with very little grass-weed pressure so far. Winter barley has emerged and set itself up for winter very well, although we do have a three-hectare patch in one field which will require some Axial (pinoxaden) in spring for black-grass, so this will need to be monitored. Oilseed rape looks good, with us managing to retain all our acreage. The new crop spring bean ground too is in fantastic shape thanks to the dry weather in September and October.


Budgeting and costings have been the order of the day for early winter – our cost of production figures for harvest 2016 make for some interesting reading. All the crops will thankfully make a profit, with our highest yielding wheat variety this season Gallant at 10.54 tonnes/hectare having a £19.99 lower cost per tonne than the worst yielding variety Skyfall at 9.56t/ha. Who says yield is not king.


Oilseed rape is not so well balanced, with £35.92/t being the difference between the highest and lowest yielding blocks. Spring beans too will make a small profit, with the variety Vertigo having the lower cost of production at £153 with Fury at £159, again due to a higher yield.


Grain marketing has been very challenging this year. Selling into a rising market when all the merchants are telling me it cannot go up any more, as the world is awash with wheat, maize and soya, for it then to increase another few pounds is extremely frustrating and shows nobody can accurately predict where it will end up, even the so-called experts.


So what changes are we going to make for 2017? We will try variable rate drilling oilseed rape this summer; this idea was the drillman’s suggestion and I have to agree it is now probably time. It is the only crop which is not variable rate-sown – as a consequence of a historic volunteer rape problem and so I didn’t see the point. However, since growing pod shatter-resistant Monsanto varieties for more than nine years now we have seen a massive reduction in volunteers, so we feel it is right to try it next season. We will also revisit variable rate nitrogen again this spring and do a few fields with SOYL via their satellite imagery, so watch this space.


So what is on my wish list for 2017? Neonics and a good broad-leaved herbicide for rape would be a good start; a one shot grass-weed herbicide for wheat, barley and oats (and no I don’t mean glyphosate); a reasonable feed wheat price which works for all sectors of agriculture and a sensible premium for both soft and milling wheat. Not much to ask is it?

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