Recognising the value in spring crops

The proportion of spring crops grown in the UK has been increasing year-on-year, driven largely by a need to control weeds, namely black-grass, but also because of their value in boosting the performance of other crops in the rotation.

 

For many, the shift from winter to spring cropping provides an opportunity to reduce input spend, spread workloads and to tap into premium or niche markets.

 

As a result, spring crops are proving increasingly attractive to many UK growers, even if the gross margins associated with them tends to be more modest than winter crops.

 

But given the lacklustre performance of some spring crops this harvest, along with new regulations which prevent growers from applying crop protection products to Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs), will the surge in spring cropping continue next year?

 

The area of spring barley grown has been on an upward trend for the past seven years, having peaked at about 725,000 hectares in 2017. While this is largely due to its ability to compete against black-grass, Andersons farm consultant Nick Blake, based in the South East, says it is one of the ‘safer’ spring crops to grow.

 

“Spring crop gross margins are notoriously volatile because of weather and as growers are not always able to get crops in the ground in time, so growers need to think about the likelihood of predicted gross margins actually being achieved.

 

“On the face of it, spring oilseed rape gross margins look good but how often would you actually achieve those gross margins? Whereas easier to establish crops, such as spring barley, is probably more likely to deliver on yield.”

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But Mr Blake insists when growers are considering spring cropping options, the emphasis should not all be on gross margins, but on the wider rotation.

“If you look at key reasons why farmers grow spring crops, it is mainly to control black-grass, so even if growers end up with poor gross margins for those particular crops, you have to ask what the alternative is in the face of continued black-grass pressure.

 

“It is about looking at the gross margin of the whole rotation, not just of individual crops and trying to make the rotation more sustainable, whether this is through nitrogen fixing crops which reduce reliance on artificial nitrogen, or crops which reduce weed populations,” he adds.

 

’However there are concerns that the spring barley market could become saturated. Alice Montrose, Strutt and Parker farm consultant based in Oxfordshire says: “Due to the popularity of spring barley because of its ability to compete with black-grass, the price offered on contracts are likely to reduce as a result of the market becoming fulfilled, even with premiums.”

 

Source

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