This winter’s Monitor Farm meetings are about to start and all four in the south west are beginning with the topic of machinery power and labour – costs, work rates and efficiency.

Philip Dolbear of the south west AHDB explains the rationale behind them:

Over the summer, we carried out a detailed study on each Monitor Farm (across the whole country in fact) using the same protocols so we can compare ‘apples with apples’. All paid and family labour, every powered and unpowered piece of kit have been analysed and costed in a number of ways.

Hectare per labour unit, hectares per metre combine header or per metre sprayer boom and fuel use per hectare are just some of the parameters calculated. It’s a very powerful set of data across over 20 farms across the UK.

The killer question as ever is - so what? This is where the very interactive style of Monitor Farm meetings will come into their own. Attendees will look at their local Monitor Farm figures, the averages across the country and then calculate some of their own figures to compare. How good or how bad in comparison?  More importantly what are the cost implications and impact on costs of production?

The figures showed that size was not everything, neither did the lowest operations costs necessarily mean minimal or no tilling operations. There was a correlation found between depreciation costs, the largest machinery cost, which averaged £63/ha across the country, and operation costs. However the top producers achieved the lowest depreciation charges, not from one single clear strategy. Extra hectares or longer retention were both effective to drive down costs. Combining was the most expensive operation averaging £66/ha with individual combines averaging 545ha.

Brexit deal or not, these are all critical questions. We will be really getting down to detail to see if the costs being incurred are indeed better than hiring, contracting or sharing. Even if the latter looks cheaper, what are the logistics?

If this has roused your interest, make sure you book on to one of the forthcoming Monitor Farm meetings at Blandford, Malmesbury, Taunton or Truro.