While many think depreciation is the largest cost associated with owning farm machinery, fuel costs tend to be higher in most cases and knowing them in more detail can help growers make better selling decisions.
Speaking at Bayer’s speaker’s corner at Cereals 2018, Leadenham, Lincoln-based farmer Andrew Ward illustrated how much difference ground conditions could make to fuel usage.
Across 410ha of cereals in harvest year 2010 he used 5,500 litres of fuel; in 2011, a very dry year, 3,700 litres and in 2012, when rainfall was 1030mm on his farm, 9,200 litres.
“It is important to do your own costs and so important to know your fuel usage figures. It takes effort to drive a wheel or tank through wet soil, it takes more energy and uses more fuel."
Fuel usage can also vary widely depending on what machine a tractor is towing so attributing costs to the tractor/machinery combination and not just the tractor is more accurate, he added.
Fuel is a significant cost in growing crops, he added. “If you know what a tonne of wheat costs to grow you know when you have made a margin and when you can sell. Also there is always something you can change to reduce cost. It might be asking – do I need to roll every field. It may only cost £8/ha but will you get the yield back?”
Reducing black-grass has been a key focus for Mr Ward over the last five years. He has altered winter wheat area from 49 per cent of the cropping area to 22 per cent, while increasing spring wheat to 17 per cent of the cropping area and spring barley from 4 per cent to 21 per cent of the area. This is despite being on heavy land.
“We have 70 per cent of the [spring crop] land ready for winter before we drill oilseed rape. We get in behind the combine and work it early. We don’t wait until November when it is wet.”
A current aim is also to reduce chemical inputs, with Mr Ward using hand rogueing to get black-grass levels down and having a no tolerance approach to control of the weed. “Two years ago hand rogueing cost us £58/ha. Last year it cost £38/ha and hopefully this year it will be less.”
Cost of production for winter wheat for harvest 2017 was £110.93/t and spring barley, £109.20/t. He said winter wheat variety Evolution did not yield well in his area last year, bringing average yield to 9.6t/ha.