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Talking Arable with Andrew Robinson: New year, new beginnings

January is a busy month for the out-loading of grain, with around 2,000 tonnes due to go each month until the end of March
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New Year, new beginnings and a new member of staff, with Sam joining the team here at Toddington.


I endeavour not to make any New Year’s resolutions but this year is different, with my new resolution being, if the price of wheat is offered in excess of £80 over the cost of production (as it was in December 2012) sell the lot and not just a proportion.


As I write, wheat and oilseed rape prices look increasingly under pressure so any spike in the market will no doubt result in some frenzied selling, causing a real rollercoaster ride over the next few months.


New crop wheat and rape prices do not look overly exciting either and although some cover had been taken for new crop over 18 months ago, in the form of physical wheat sales and some forward ‘futures’ sales in our CMG pool, it is not enough to give me a secure platform to sit back and not sell.


And with wheat ‘put and call’ options looking particularly expensive we will have to wait and see if any further selling opportunities arise before harvest.


Defra has announced its 12% CAP modulation and this compares to Italy at 0%, France at 3% and even the green Germans at only 4.5% although the likely winner is Poland with a 25% reverse modulation (from Pillar 2 back to Pillar 1). It’s good to see we are on an equal footing with our European neighbours.


Wheats and barleys look surprisingly well after their late autumn herbicide followed by a trace element, insecticide and triazole mix for BYDV and yellow rust control, the latter rearing its ugly head in early December, with some varieties worse affected than others.

Oilseed rape here looks much as it does up and down the country, that is to say very well, with no visible blueing of the crop, which is so damaging for yield potential and with large, deep green leaves which are obviously full of nitrogen and will be ready to take off as the spring approaches.

Mixed result

At present we are seeing a mixed result in terms of grass-weed control in this crop, with all black-grass seemingly affected, ranging from a total kill to sick looking black-grass. However we all know the magical recovery powers of this troublesome weed, so we will wait and see.


January is a busy month for the out-loading of grain, with around 2,000 tonnes due to go each month until the end of March, with the balance trickling out until late June, as by the end of December just 261 tonnes of wheat and 145 tonnes of rape were the only grains loaded from the 2013 harvest.


I attended the Oxford Farming Conference in early January. I felt it was an excellent two-and-a-half days with a chance to catch up and quiz peers round the dinner table, all in all a very productive time.


I did feel though they missed a few key points; we are all well aware we need to produce one billion more tonnes of wheat and 200m tonnes of red meat by 2050, but how practically and, more importantly, politically are we going to be allowed to respond to this challenge?


It is a pity Owen Paterson was delayed until the afternoon as he missed Simon Coveney, Irish Minister for Food and Fisheries, tell us about Ireland’s implemented Agricultural Plan to 2020 where they are looking to massively increase exports by as much as 40% per annum, something which they achieved in 2013, and why, political backing!


NFU president Peter Kendall stands down this time, these are going to be incredibly big shoes to fill but hopefully we can find someone suitable to take on this extremely important position, so whoever it is – good luck.


  • 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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