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Talking Arable with Andrew Robinson: Forgetting January

Machine costings have remained fairly similar this year, with only the combine showing a good reduction in running costs
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January was a month to forget in terms of weather, with a total of 126mm of rain falling, which is more than double our average rainfall for the month.


The fields, dare I say it, have taken all the wet weather very well and what a satisfying sound to hear the drains running hard and dropping into the ditch below. Drainage has always played a big part of what we do at Toddington due to the very heavy nature of the soils, so ensuring the ditches are appropriately maintained and the drains are clear to run is most definitely a must.


February is a month where I revise the crop gross margins for the coming harvest. If prices continue where they are and we achieve budgeted yields then we will likely see a 15% drop in wheat margins and more than a 20% drop with rape. Let’s hope we all achieve higher than budgeted yields and there is a problem somewhere in the world to increase the grain price.


Capital budgets and machinery costings are constantly re-evaluated with the rolling 15-year machinery capital budget being updated every time a new machine for that year has been sourced and priced. Once this figure is entered in the spreadsheet it gives us our average spend per hectare on machinery with this figure also constantly being benchmarked.


Machine costings have remained fairly similar this year, with only the combine showing a good reduction in running costs at £6.13 per harvested tonne due to the extra tonnage we put through the machine this year. With hopefully even more to put through the Claas 760 combine, with contract combining to be done this harvest, we may see this figure back down to 2011 levels of £5.03 per tonne harvested by putting in excess of 8,700 tonnes through.

Wheat trial

We have, on-farm at Toddington, a wheat trial plot organised by Openfield, consisting of 12 wheat varieties, including some new varieties in 12-metre strips covering 0.5ha for each plot. The aim is for Openfield to show other local farmers around the plots to discuss seed for the following year. It does however give us an excellent opportunity to monitor how these different varieties perform on our own farm.


It will also be interesting to see how feed wheats such as KWS Santiago, Dickens and Revelation stack up next door to milling wheats such as Skyfall, Crusoe and the old stalwart Solstice. The comparison will show if we are doing the right thing by growing only quality wheats instead of higher yielding feed varieties.


Nitrogen on oilseed rape will be one of the first jobs as soon as a reasonable weather window allows. I always feel it’s important to get rape going quickly again in the spring with only the amount altered according to GAI rather than the timings. Rape is certainly moving here, with green bud first appearing in the forward crops on February 4. These forward crops will receive 0.75 to one-litre/ha of Caryx (metconazole+mepiquat) with the final block having 0.75 litres/ha of Folicur (tebuconazole) as it is not quite as forward. The plan will then be to follow up these crops with a second application of a PGR if required.


Not far behind, will I suspect, be a fungicide, PGR mix on the wheats as they have never really stopped growing all through the winter, with some forward crops looking a little ‘frothy’. With yellow rust, mildew, septoria and eyespot all vying for top spot as the first disease to really take hold again as soon as things start to warm up there will be a very interesting choice made for the all- important T0 fungicide.


  • Andrew Robinson is farms manager at Heathcote Farms, Bedfordshire. He is a former winner of the nabim/HGCA Milling Wheat Challenge.
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