Crop yield variability, gross margin performance and price volatility can sometimes be cited as reasons against growing spring crops, however, such conclusions may not always be accurate.
In data from the Defra Farm Business Survey for the years 2013 and 2015, wheat yields were 7.4t/ha (3t/acre) and 9t/ha(3.6t/acre), respectively, a difference of 22 per cent. For spring barley in the years 2016 and 2015, yields were 5.6t/ha (2.3t/acre) and 6t/ha (2.4t/acre), respectively, a difference of seven per cent, indicating less variability in the spring crop, says Agrii farm business consultant Paul Pickford.
Mr Pickford calculates variable costs and output for 80 crops for Agrii including different varieties of the same crop. In budgeted figures for 2018, top performing crops on variable costs as a percentage of output included spring oilseed rape, spring oats (milling), spring oats (naked) and spring barley (malting), he says. “For naked spring oats, for every pound you spend you get £2.59 back.”
Although spring crop gross margins for harvest 2016 were not as high as those for winter wheat and winter oilseed rape, they exceeded those for winter oats, winter barley and winter beans, he says. “A third or fourth crop could easily be a spring crop without any detriment to gross margin.”
Mr Pickford even goes so far as to suggest that growers may be able to build a more robust business with spring crops. “If you went to two-thirds spring crops the total GM would be lower and you would have to reduce investment in labour and machinery but it is something to consider.”
Looking ahead to spring crop gross margins for 2018, Mr Pickford predicts that the highest would be for naked oats at £889/ha (£360t/acre), assuming a yield of 7t/ha (2.8t/acre).
Jim Carswell Agrii R&D manager North says end markets for naked oats include feed for horses, poultry, pets and wild birds. “They have higher oil and protein levels than covered oats and there is no waste as husks.”
If deciding to grow naked oats, he recommends placing at least some on contract with an end user.