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Know the landscape: Unearth your strengths

Publication Date: 
18 September 2017

Farmbench for Agronomists

A good agronomist knows the lay of the land. They know the field they are in, the soil and its likely impact on the crop. They know how this field is differs from the one they were in yesterday, and they know in what ways it is similar.

Likely, they will have tables, calculators or other such tools to help make decisions for the levels of pesticides, herbicides or nutrients used.

Why should costings be any different?

Knowing your margins has never been more important

There are over 70,000 fewer farmers growing potatoes today than there were fifty years ago. The average acreage per farm is larger than ever. Relative to recent history, the potato growing business requires big investment and tight margins.

Prices have ever been volatile, but while some may have been happy to ride the ‘tight years’ and compensate in the ‘good years’, this is no longer an option. Successful growers today have a firm grasp on price, marketable yield and their cost structure.

John Weir, Farm Manager from Lacesston Farm, Fife said: “We started benchmarking seven years ago, a group of local growers got together to compare the cost of production for potatoes. Potatoes were making very little money at the time and we wanted to scrutinise why they were costing so much to grow. It provided us with the time to look at what else might be possible to reduce our cost of production.”

More than half the potato growers in Britain are operating with growing areas of over 100 ha. Therefore, small savings per hectare can add up to a large impact on the bottom line.

John Thomas, an arable farmer from the Vale of Glamorgan said: “Chemical and fertiliser bills are the highest we have. We thought we knew what our cost of production is, but by doing benchmarking we now really know where we are.”

Local knowledge

One of the things that sets Farmbench apart from other benchmarking services, aside from it being completely free to use, is that it gives users to ability to benchmark on a local level. When it comes to chemical and fertiliser programmes, benchmarking against businesses operating on similar land can create real value.

Mark Wood a farm manager from an arable farm in Herefordshire said: “We set up a group of around 15 businesses in Herefordshire. All the figures that get put into Farmbench are confidential. We’ve known our fixed and variable costs for some time, but this allows us to know where we can make improvements.”

A further benefit is that Farmbench is a ‘whole-farm’ system. Fixed costs can be spread across arable and livestock businesses, providing a more accurate picture.

How agronomists can get involved

Growers and agronomists will have the chance to speak to members of the Farmbench team and try demos of the software at BP2017 at Harrogate on the 22 and 23 November.

Agronomists can also get involved in Farmbench by contacting their AHDB regional officer, using the contact details below. If a number of agronomists led a local benchmarking group through Farmbench this would create meaningful data for the farmers involved.

By working with their farms on benchmarking, agronomists can strengthen their relationship with the grower. This can result in a more favourable solution than if a farmer approaches you wanting to know why his pesticide costs are above average for the local area. There may of course be a valid cause, so all the more reason to approach this exercise together.

To find out more please head to the Farmbench website



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