Every enterprise on our eastern Management Matters farm is to come under the microscope this year. Andrew Shirley finds out what changes 2007 could bring
Turkeys, grain, sheep – all did well at Godwick Hall in 2006, but Robert and John Garner know that standing still is not an option.
Robert is committed to arable farming in the long term and says that, even without support payments, current prices leave a slim margin for wheat at Godwick. Including milling wheat, he hopes to average £90/t for harvest 2007. “I’m convinced prices will have to rise when the support is cut, but I’m glad we’re a 4t/acre farm.”
But for Robert, who also runs the farm’s increasingly successful turkey business, time management is becoming an ever more crucial issue and he is constantly looking for ways to improve efficiency. “From the moment I put down my turkey poults in May I simply don’t stop until Christmas Day.”
A £30,000 investment this year in a second-hand John Deere crawler tractor has already proved its worth, he says. Its pulling power allows speedier, more timely operations. And Robert, usually a staunch advocate of the plough, is so impressed he is even considering drilling next year’s wheat after just one pass with a Cousins V-form, five-leg sub-soiler set up with discs and razor rings.
“The turkey business is growing annually, so anything that saves time on the arable side of the business is always going to be a help to me, as long as it doesn’t compromise yield and quality,” he says. Grain storage is another factor that could be looked at later in the year, adds Robert.
All the farm’s free-range Norfolk Bronze turkeys found eager buyers this Christmas, even though Robert had boosted numbers from 1600 to 2000. “We sold out completely all I had left were nine birds ordered over the internet that weren’t collected. This year I’ll make on-line customers pay in full.”
A new £2000 stock control, ordering and invoicing software programme helped manage the extra volume, says Robert. “People might think rearing turkeys is an easy way to make money, but there is so much to think about. Often it seems like the phones are ringing non-stop and it can become very draining keeping track of things.
“I don’t think I could have managed without the computer programme – it saved a huge amount of time and aggravation. At any one time you know exactly where you are. On Christmas Eve it told me I had 392 birds hanging ready for dispatch and when I counted there were 391.”
Where to go now with this business, which accounts for 20% of Godwick’s turnover and has lots of potential for further growth, is Robert’s major management dilemma.
“A lot of my existing customers are set to increase their orders and there is one new farm shop opening, so it would be tempting to really increase production. But somebody once told me that you shouldn’t expand on the back of a good year and I think that’s good advice. I won’t be going crazy. I’ll cover what I think I can sell, probably 500 to 600 more birds.”
Father John, in the thick of lambing the first batch of his pedigree Suffolks, which started to arrive slightly ahead of schedule on Christmas Eve, is also mulling over the options for his sheep.
On one hand, he is disappointed with the prices his pedigree high-index ram lambs are making and is aware that he can’t look after so many animals on his own indefinitely. “I think I’ll only keep the very best rams the rest will have to go straight to the butchers. The £300 a piece I’m getting is just not enough to justify the time, cost and effort.”
But on the other, John knows that the Suffolks contribute immensely to the value of his half-bred commercial flock when crossed with Blue-Faced Leicesters.
Sheep also play an important role in helping manage the farm’s grassland, much of which is entered into the Higher Level environmental scheme.
“I think the sheep will have to stay, but in a different form, if I can no longer cope. However, I wouldn’t want to ranch them and let them look after themselves all year round. After doing the job properly for so long I don’t think I could bear that.”