High crop disease levels limit farmers’ savings

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The soaring cost of disease control is limiting any savings that farmers are making by spending less on seeds and fertilisers, according to new research.

Analysis by Rural Business Research found that seed costs were down eight per cent and fertiliser by six per cent per hectare during harvest 2014, but in the same period, chemical costs rose by 13 per cent.

Farmers in all sectors are looking at ways of trimming their costs to weather a volatile marketplace in which commodity prices have suffered major dips - but savings are being held back by increased disease pressures.

Ben Lang, researcher at Cambridge University’s Rural Business Unit, said: “We’re seeing higher per unit fungicide prices combined with record levels of applications - 2014 saw extra applications to battle Septoria, Yellow Rust and Powdery Mildew, some of which were at the highest levels since records began.

“Unfortunately, the increased cost of disease control is off-setting savings made on seeds and fertilisers.”

Mr Lang said low input crops are however helping to boost margins, with winter oats having the best net margin - minus £196 per hectare - of all cereals crops in the survey.

He said: “Despite low prices in 2015, winter oats continue to be a low input crop; over the last five years they’ve seen the lowest increase in variable costs out of all crops in the survey.”

He added: “Certainly the high yields of 2014 helped to off-set lower crop prices, particularly in winter wheat and sugar beet, but only when combined with controlled spending - our top performing farms tend to have lower than average spending on inputs as well as higher yields.”