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Australians can teach East Anglian farmers a thing or two about efficiency, meeting told

PUBLISHED: 12:57 12 February 2019 | UPDATED: 10:23 14 February 2019

George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.

George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.

George Lane

Farmers on the far side of the world can teach their East Anglian counterparts valuable lessons about efficiency, said an agri-business consultant after a fact-finding trip to Australia.

George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.

George Lane, who works in the Bury St Edmunds office of Brown and Co, spoke to farmers at Wymondham Rugby Club during the first of a series of spring seminars being held by the company across the region this week.

He recently returned from an employee exchange programme with Rural Directions, the largest independent agri-business consultancy in South Australia. He said efficiency was a key focus for large-scale – but unsubsidised – Australian farm stations, with one of the key differences to British farms being the attitude to bulk-buying inputs such as chemical sprays and fuel.

“They could make a lot of savings by forward planning and being organised, which made me think maybe we ought to do the same,” he said.

“If you need some chemicals you put an order in and it gets delivered the next day and goes straight onto the field.

George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.George Lane, an agri-business consultant at Brown and Co, pictured during his employee exchange programme with Rural Directions in Australia. Picture: George Lane.

“But you are paying a delivery charge on that and, when you look at it, you already roughly know how much glyphosate and how much of your other big chemicals you are going to be using in a year.

“So what they do out there [in Australia] is bulk-order it early in the season, before they need it, and they will say: ‘This is roughly how much we are going to need, so we will put in a 90pc order, deliver it whenever you can, but I want the cheapest delivery date and give us your best price’.

“I thought that takes a lot of sense. Why are we just letting our agronomists order chemicals for us and it turns up the next day, 10 or 20 litres at a time?”

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Mr Lane said fuel was another area where Australian farmers made significant cost savings by buying in bulk.

Agri-business consultant George Lane speaking at the Brown and Co spring update seminar in Wymondham. Picture: Chris HillAgri-business consultant George Lane speaking at the Brown and Co spring update seminar in Wymondham. Picture: Chris Hill

“They will buy bulk loads of fuel when it is cheap, and they will have storage tanks to fit the lorries – if they have got 32,000 litres of diesel on a lorry, they will have a 35,000-litre diesel tank on farm. So when they get to the last 3,000 litres they put another bulk order in and know they still have one or two months of fuel left on farm, so it can be delivered on the cheapest day, with a bulk discount.

“By doing that they are making a 12 cent saving, which in English money is 7p. So for example a farm that uses 32,000 litres in one purchase is making £2,240 saving.”

MAKING MACHINERY WORK HARDER

Mr Lane said Australian farmers also made their machinery work much harder for them before looking for a replacement. He gave an example of a self-propelled sprayer, with a 42m boom and a 5,000-litre tank, which had done 18,000 working hours.

“I would have thought that was ridiculous,” he said. “But I looked into it a bit more and the cost of getting it to that 18,000 hours is minimal.

“How many people here have farm machinery and they replace it when they get to the 3,000-hour mark? The salesman says it is going to lose its value or it might need some large repairs. But what I am trying to demonstrate is that machinery will go to the extremities, go past that 10,000 hour mark and keep going, and be cost-effective in doing so.

“They [Australian farmers] are only going to buy machinery if they need it, because they are unsubsidised. They don’t have the luxury of having guaranteed money from elsewhere. They will only buy it if they need it, or if it will give them an improved efficiency or profit.”

Other topics discussed at the meetings, which will continue in Holt tonight and King’s Lynn on Wednesday, included trends in the land market, changes to abstraction licencing and environmental schemes, and advice on how landowners should work with utility companies over access rights.

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