In common with a lot of folk, we’ve had quite a few sessions during recent weeks gathered around the farmhouse kitchen table.

as well as the standard festive celebrations and hangover-nursing breakfasts, these get togethers have also included some planning sessions aimed at coming up with a set of cropping proposals which can cope with the side-effects of last harvest’s bumper crops – and the knock-on stresses this is causing to the seams of many grain buyers’ stores.

With the much reduced acreage of wheat sown around the country, especially down south, there’s likely to be a big increase in spring plantings. So it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the traditional fall-backs of barley and oats – over and above any future-based contracts – are unlikely to offer goldmine-like levels of profitability this coming season.

Having been round all the options a few times and probably spending far too much time discussing unlikely crops like rice, lentils, sunflowers, lupins, linseed and soya – but, other than some fantasy cropping plans, we didn’t really come up with anything which fits the bill of being a bit exciting while still offering the real prospect of a crop which is likely to be both harvestable and profitable.

But given all the noises about UK agriculture having to move swiftly away from the ‘same old, same old’ approach, it looks like we’ll need to spend a good deal more time considering the options if we’re going to be as adaptable as the brave new world which awaits us is going to require us to be.

One course of action might be to take a fairly radical rethink not on what crops we grow, but to focus instead on how we grow them.

The recent outcomes from the AHDB’s Strategic Potato farm which I wrote about in my last column highlighted growers’ tendency to overwork their land and over fertilise their crops. Now, while I’ve no hard and fast evidence to hand to support the belief that the same could be said for grain crops, I think there’s a fair old chance that this is more than likely to be the case.

It was only a week or two ago that one of the directors at the Andersons Outlook conference pointed out that, in their financial analysis, they had found a huge variation between different farmers in the costs of growing a crop of wheat.

On similar sort of grade 3.1 land producing very similar yields, some units had variable costs as low as £140 an acre, while others were closer to £250 and one outlier was touching £350 per acre.

So, there might be savings to be made if we’re bold enough to drop the full-insurance, belt-and-braces approach which we tend to be frightened into adopting by some of our agronomists – who just also happen to supply our spray chemicals.

Even bigger savings might be ripe for the picking if we can all learn to control our addiction to shiny new machinery and kit, with differences in fixed costs between businesses actually varying more than the variable ones.

We need to be clever in how we do this, though. For we’re constantly being told we need to up our game in order to catch up with the productivity levels which are currently being achieved in other countries and the best way of doing this is to by adopting technical innovation.

But what if there was a way of letting us harness more from our investment in such technology?

It’s not an area in which I’d claim expertise, but many of these new products bring with them a spectacular ability to collect huge amounts of data and information on our crops, soils, climate and many other parameters. In the past collecting or logging the data which has been collected was often viewed as a bit of a chore and the last thing most folk want to do after a hard day’s graft is to spend extra time transposing the information into a notebook, especially if there’s a fair chance it’s just going to sit there.

But a project being run by SAOS is looking into better ways of capturing the reams of data which modern day equipment is capable of recording and trying to find ways to let the farming community 'harvest' at least some of the value of this information which is currently often given away for free.

Even during our daily lives, in this connected world the information which is gathered by big organisations every time we use the internet, our phones, our banks cards or even visit a supermarket is hugely valuable to those selling us these things.

The data regarding what we sow, what we spread, what we spray and what we harvest is all critical information for running a successful business. This information impacts our profitability and our efficiency – and the big global players know this.

The big machinery manufacturers like us to think that the information which they suck from the black box on the combine, driller or spreader – which is recording virtually every operation – is there to support us and give us a top-notch customer service if you have a breakdown.

But, in common with supermarkets and on-line retailers, the primary function of gathering this data has more to do with marketing and sales, and to tie you in as much as possible to their systems and services.

We might shrug our shoulders and believe there’s little we can do about this fact of modern life – but the SAOS’ upcoming conference is going revolve around the management of such big data and how the farming community can harvest and pocket at least some of the highly profitable flow of information, especially through collaborative efforts which, by expanding the collection pool, would add real meaning to this information. .

So, that might offer us one route to get at least some additional income from the systems we already run.

Another hot topic from which there will be no escape in the coming years is, of course, global warming, the climate change emergency and mitigation measures.

While farming has regularly found the finger of blame pointed in its direction, better science and carbon accounting systems can only highlight that our industry offers huge potential to help rather than hinder the efforts.

Because, getting down to basics, the big card which humanity can influence in order to naturally tie up carbon dioxide is, of course, photosynthesis. Regardless of what type of a farmer you are, at some stage in the chain, managing this process is what it’s all about.

So, who better to make the most of this process than the guys who have been involved for millennia in the business of harnessing the most natural form of solar power to sequester carbon dioxide?

At farm gate level, I can’t really see how any cropping unit can but fail to tie up more carbon dioxide than it produces. Could we cash in on the growing carbon offset market which offers energy-hungry businesses, such as aviation (and high-consumption celebrities), a means of counteracting their profiligacy by supporting businesses which are reversing the process?

It is a possibility, but with the market-place currently offering somewhere in the region of $16 per tonne, after converting it into its CO2 sequestered equivalent, that’d be returning less than a sixth of the price we’re currently getting for our grain, if my calculations and assumptions are anywhere near right. There would also have to be some way of ensuring that the produce wouldn’t be recycled into the atmosphere by being consumed in any form.

But while this direct route might be a bit of a non-starter, increasing the organic matter of our soils could tie up huge quantities of carbon and prove to be a perfectly valid way to sequester CO2 – and getting some outside support for so doing could give an additional income stream from our cropping lands.

Increasing the level of organic material in most of our soils could also offer improvements in soil structure and nutrients as well as its capacity to retain water – creating a win-win-win situation.

Now I guess these ideas still fall into the fantasy cropping plans as well and they're still a few years away from representing truly viable alternatives – but, as the calendar clicks over into the 2020s, we’re going to need to think a good deal further out of the box than we have for many years ...