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Growers wanting to optimise returns should focus on efficiency rather than yield, say data experts. “The arable industry adage ‘yield is king’ still resonates... Harvest data review reveals best-performing varieties

Growers wanting to optimise returns should focus on efficiency rather than yield, say data experts.

“The arable industry adage ‘yield is king’ still resonates –  although perhaps less so going forwards as the landscape and priorities shift with changing policies,” says Yagro chief executive and co-founder Gareth Davies.

“We believe this outdated adage needs to change to ‘efficiency is king’.”

Yagro is a data company working with farmers to improve arable enterprises by monitoring and analysing information.

Number-crunching data can radically transform farm business performance, it says.

Cost per tonne

Although Yagro still analyses arable yields as a source of comparison, it says it is more relevant to focus on the cost of production per tonne – and the gross margin of each crop.

For harvest 2023, for example, winter wheat KWS Extase stands out with the highest recorded yield of 14.2 t/ha from Yagro  datasets – an ongoing success many commentators attrribute to the variety’s strong Septoria resistance.

But LG Astronomer achieved an average yield of about 11.5 t/ha – and its consistency across all farm variables, including weather and soil type, put it top of Yagro’s normalised yield table.

“LG Astronomier performed well across our platform with few outliers, achieving on average 10% higher yield than LG Skyscraper,” says Mr Davies.

Barley and rape

For winter barley, six-row feed variety SY Kingston was at the top of the variable costs on a £/tonne basis. But KWS Hawking recovered at harvest from a high £/ha variable input cost by yielding well and landing a low £/tonne.

“Comparing costs per hectare and per tonne is always a revealing exercise,” adds Mr Davies.

For spring barley, Explorer had the highest variable costs per hectare, suggesting it is more expensive to grow. But the cost per tonne shows that Explorer’s output at harvest makes it a solid investment in the rotation.

It’s the same story with oilseed rape. On a per hectare basis, Aurelia had a 37% higher cost of production compared to Flamingo. But post-harvest data shows the variety’s cost per tonne was only 2% higher than Flamingo, with a tighter range.

In the field

Growers are using the Yagro platform to their advantage. James ‘Jay’ Wrighton, of Kent-based Fridays, oversees some 840ha, including 560ha of arable cropping. Mr Wrighton has been using Yagro since 2017.

The platform has major benefits, says Mr Wrighton. “I’ve one field that’s less than 3ha. I nearly put that into countryside stewardship. But interrogating the data revealed the field to actually be delivering 10t/ha consistently.

“It really shows that an average cost per hectare isn’t all you have to focus on. You should go into the field for a field average and work backwards from that, to truly see what’s helping and what’s hindering your operation.

“It’s easy to look at the field and think ‘that’s inefficient, it’s only a few hectares’ – but that field was producing 20t over 2ha consistently.”

‘Look to take risk off the table’

Data can have a profound effect on grain marketing, says James Bolesworth, founder of CRM Agri, a go-to source for grain market intelligence.

“Wheat prices were around £275/t when farmers were planting the 2023 crop – an unbelievable change of fortunes from plantings the previous
year where wheat prices were trading around £185/t at plantings.”

Today, wheat prices are trading around £200/t for May 2024. Markets are weighing up the bearish factors causing price pressure – aggressive Russian wheat exports and increasing corn yields in the US, Ukraine and Russia – with increasing geopolitical risk in the Middle East

“One thing looks certain, prices remain volatile and input price risks are higher,” says Mr Bolesworth.

“Farmers should be looking at margins closely for 2024 harvest and ensuring price rallies are seen as opportunities to take risk off the table rather than speculate the prices will return to their peaks.”