Jamie Gwatkin shares lessons from Harvest 2013

Jamie Gwatkin gathered JVFG Harvest 2013 lessons from 25,000 hectares of farmed land.

Information is power. The great thing about benchmarking eighteen member joint venture groups or businesses across England with 25,000 hectares in mainly cereal production is that through the Joint Venture Farming Group we’re developing a deep and useful understanding of costs – and profits – in farming today.  From all the data from Harvest 2013 there are several key lessons to be acting on now.

Choosing the right farm machinery option: crawler versus articulated tractor

In recent years many farms wanting to invest in machinery have been tempted by the crawler tractor route. Yes, we all knew going down that road might be expensive, particularly on maintenance, but we felt that would be worth it for the other gains made.  Is that right?

With JVFG benchmarking of machinery costs during 2013 across our member groups we now have fascinating detail that gives us the answer. Pelham Farming Company, operating over 5,000 acres in Hertfordshire, showed that using big, articulated tractors is a lot cheaper. Across the member groups tractor costs were from as little as just over £6/hectare whereas crawler costs were as much as £175/hectare.

One disadvantage of articulated tractors is that drivers may be less keen to operate them, especially for very long periods. The crawlers are more user-friendly. But using articulated tractors and changing operator every eight hours or so, still proves to be the far more cost effective option.

Costs of crop establishment continue to fall

The good news on crop establishment is that the cost continues to drop. JVFG evidence shows that even though machinery costs are on the up because more farms are getting the job done in one pass the overall cost of establishment is lower than before.

Extra costs of heavier soil types revealed

Our understanding of the inherent cost of different soil types has deepened from the evidence from 2013. Often we hear, usually from those with heavier soils, that ‘heavy land makes a heavy crop’.  Really? Looking at winter wheat operations cost comparison those on heavier land have very heavy costs to go with it. Groups with heavy land have up to £13.70 per tonne whereas groups on lighter land had a much ‘lighter’ £5 per tonne as their overhead.

Keep the cost of harvest down

The cost of harvest continues to rise. Across the Joint Venture Farming Groups we have evidence that the logistics of harvesting are just as significant as machinery. Groups adjust their set ups, employ chaser bins to speed the pick up from field (and reduce traffic on the land) and avoid double handling or even to have two teams on the go at once. Whatever the approach, harvest is a team effort requiring discipline and communication. Everyone from combine driver to manager needs to be at the top of their game. With other operations a mistake made may not be that obvious but at harvest it most certainly is. Team work: there’s something to work on in every step towards Harvest 2014.


To discuss the JVFG evidence with us or to find out more do contact Jamie Gwatkin

jamie.gwatkin@virgin.net 01284 386111 0r 07976 736 393

Jamie Gwatkin is a qualified rural business consultant with over 25 years experience providing advice to farmers and landowners throughout eastern and central England. He is Director of several joint venture farming companies and is the benchmarking consultant to the Joint Venture Farming Group and benchmarks businesses which cover 25,000 hectares.