The role of the gamekeeper has never been an exact science, considering the array of tasks involved in the job description. And, as if the range of tasks wasn’t already complex enough, one of the more recent responsibilities to fall within their remit is helping to mitigate the highest inflation rate in a generation – a rise that was difficult enough, even before Russia decided to invade Ukraine.
And, there is no doubt that the ongoing invasion has made matters even worse, resulting in even steeper increases across the board for gamekeepers and farmers alike.
Read on for a summary of the key increases, and how gamekeepers can counter some of these costs through various avenues.
What are the Rising Costs?
- Fertiliser – In the last year alone, fertiliser is reckoned to have at least doubled in price. This is due to nitrogen prices continuing to climb due to short supplies, rising gas prices and some panic buying. Already a major concern, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine could see this increase further; with gas supplies anything but stable.
- Cover Crop Seed – Cover Crop seed is set to increase by roughly 2-3% for the coming season. This is quite standard and may seem like small change – however the cultivation side of things will see a considerably higher increase than this.
- Energy – Some in the energy sector have predicted inflation of 70% on gas and electricity by the end of 2022. Unfortunately, this was before the Ukraine conflict. With oil and gas prices extremely unstable due to what is happening, fears are growing that inflation could increase beyond this mark. Not only does this impact energy bills, it is already having a devastating impact on the cost of fuel.
- Labour – Labour costs have increased on last season. And, with inflation going through the roof, they may have to rise again for the job to be a viable option.
- Feed – We are amongst unprecedented times with regards to the cost of raw materials for feed. Wheat has passed the £300/t mark. The price of grain traded in Chicago, the international benchmark, as risen more than 50% since the invasion of Ukraine. Equally concerning is soya. Ukraine is Europe’s soya superpower – with 3.9 million tonnes produced a year – and it is only a matter of time before this has a further bearing on feed prices.
- Poults – The price of poults have been creeping up steadily for the last few years, with the price of a poult expected to break the dreaded £5 mark within the next two years. The cost of rearing will inevitably increase due to the above issues – meaning the £5 mark could be broken sooner than we hoped.
How to Counter Rising Costs?
Due to the accumulation of the above price rises, it is expected that the cost of running a shoot will be roughly 10% higher than last year. However, despite the above worries, it isn’t all doom and gloom. There is much to be done that can help mitigate these rises, whilst also improving the shoot.
The choice and combination of cover crops grown will prove highly significant in achieving the desired results. And, whereas there is never a good time for high inflation, the timing is helpful to the extent that it coincides with new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMS) legislation when shoot masters and gamekeepers will need to work together to grow crops that qualify for support under the scheme; thus, providing meaningful financial incentive.
The effect of ELMS has emphasised the relationship between land regeneration for the agriculturalist and stewardship for the keeper. What was believed by many to be a dedicated area of crop production is set to become mainstream.
Alternatives to Fertiliser
To tackle spiralling fertiliser costs, the gamekeeper will almost certainly turn to the farmer to investigate alternatives where they are available – farmyard manure (FYM), chicken dung and digestate are obvious choices, which may even be obtainable from the shoot-farm itself (otherwise from nearby livestock farms or anaerobic digestion (AD) plants).
While this will significantly cut costs, it can present logistical issues; for example, FYM will require a muck- rather than a fertiliser-spreader, which may restrict access to some areas; chicken dung applied by a standard muck-spreader can sour the land unless undertaken by a competent operator; and digestate might well require a slurry tanker with drizzle bars. This equipment can often be sourced relatively easily, but it gives a taste of the gamekeeper’s widening role in meeting such challenges.
Cultivation – and specifically reducing the number of passes – is an obvious candidate for reducing input costs. It wasn’t that long ago that the plough was the most important implement for growing crops. We have seen major changes recently; not to the extent that the plough is no longer significant, but in the machinery pecking order, it is feasibly not at the top now. Instead – and entirely in line with ELMS policy – minimum tillage or zero tillage are the order of the day. Through well thought-out crop selection, improved seed placement (direct drilling is invariably preferable) and carefully considered crop rotation, it is possible to grow highly successful cover and conservation crops. The need for heavier tillage operations – if at all – should ideally be confined to much wider intervals of few years or so.
In the world of rising costs, the last thing the gamekeeper wants is a crop that fails to establish or succumbs to some plight further down the line. Apart from adhering to good husbandry – i.e., drilling at the correct time and making sure sufficient fertiliser and chemical are on site for application at the correct rate, at the right time – the spread of species grown can be a major factor in reducing the risk of crop failure. The ideal scenario is to grow equal proportions of annuals, biennial and perennials, so that disease or pest-infestation specific to one will not affect the others.
Don’t be Tempted to Cut Corners
How the gamekeeper reacts to rising costs will determine the level of success or failure thereafter. The worst possible reaction will be to cut corners. Skimp on labour and heighten the likelihood jobs will be botched; withhold feed, and birds will lag; buy cheap seed, and risk contaminating the land of the entire shoot.
In the case of seed, it must not only be from a proven, certified source; it should, where appropriate, have received those treatments still deemed permissible against such threats as flea-beetle, wireworm and leatherjacket. Mixtures that are subject to ELMS and other stewardship payments need to be formulated properly within the rules (precision weighed and drum mixed), fully trialled before entering the market; and sampled for minimum standards of germination and purity.
To talk to one of our advisors about your cover crops, ELMS, or anything else covered on this blog – please feel free to get in touch