Growers ‘face uncertain year’

ARABLE farmers face a year of considerable uncertainty, a conference at Haverhill was told.

But guests at the Cambridge Arable Technologies (CAT) event this week were told there was still much they could do to meet the challenge of finding ways to increase productivity.

David Eudall, markets analyst at the Home Grown Cereals Authority, highlighted the uncertainty in grain markets and the impact of world events on wheat prices in the UK.

“The wheat market responds to other grains, especially coarse grains such as maize. Farmers need to watch US and South American maize markets, including production information from Brazil and Argentina,” he said.

“Wheat fundamentals in isolation are bearish. The wheat price is being supported by the supply and demand situation with maize,” he told CAT members.

Other factors to consider include the weak euro and the Chicago investment markets. Inevitably, the weather will play its part and at present the ‘La Nina’ system is causing very dry conditions in key areas such as the Americas and in Ukraine, where there is a severe water shortage. Some forecasters suggest ‘La Nina’ will turn into an ‘El Nino’ pattern, which could bring heavy rain later in the year.

On the demand side, David Eudall said demand needs to be switched to wheat in the near term, so the price relationship of maize leading the market will continue. Ethanol demand growth may be curbed by a reduction in US subsidy, so it is unclear whether output will reduce, he said.

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Arable farmers are accustomed to price volatility but there are areas where they can boost yield, particularly with second wheats, which are the subject of several CAT trials, the conference heard.

CAT Technical Director Richard Fenwick said: “National HGCA winter wheat yields showed a difference of 1.5 tonnes per hectare between first and second wheats. We need to look closely at the performance of recommended varieties to see which is the best fit in each location.

“In CAT trials last year the second wheat drop was less than the national average at 1.0 tonnes per ha and we will be working on ways of further improving yields, such as through changing the nutrition regime.”

CAT has also been researching inputs costs. Matching inputs to the season is clearly important, with margin over inputs increasing by �50 per hectare on a lower level “farm input” regime compared with a high input system used in the CAT trials.

Ongoing trials with different forms of fertiliser demonstrated benefits of using urea-based fertiliser including KaN, which producing higher yields than the more conventional Ammonium Nitrate (AN), even at higher application rates than those used in previous trials.

With so many new recommended varieties farmers are not so much spoilt for choice as likely to be confused, Mr Fenwick suggested. Reviewing the latest data he proposed new winter wheat Crusoe is a useful addition for the Group 1 grower. Yields are similar to the trusted Gallant and Solstice varieties but Crusoe has better disease resistance and higher protein levels, and is sought after by end-users.

Torch is the highest yielding Group 3 variety, with good brown rust and blossom midge resistance but high susceptibility to mildew and yellow rust. It is sought after by end-users for biscuit flour.