Four former Farmer Focus writers have returned for a one-off appearance to give us an update about how things are going on farm. Here Richard Thomas explains what he has been doing on the farm since 2007.
The past few years on the farm have seen significant investment in a hydrocooling and packing line for potatoes. We now pack a branded potato on site, which are delivered nationally to Sainsbury’s. With our marketing partner Albert Bartlett, potato production is increasing yearly with more emphasis on bespoke varieties, such as Vivaldi and Rooster, which will command a market premium.
Milk production has remained static. I do not have enough confidence in the UK market delivering sustainable returns to justify any increase in our production at this time. We continue to battle with all factors to keep producing milk. A recent clear TB test was most welcome only for Schmallenberg virus to appear in this area. This year we have made alkalage rather than wholecrop wheat and rumen health appears to be much better. Much tighter block calving is our aim to cut costs further.
Beef cattle from our dairy herd are now adding significant returns to the farm. Another farm that we purchased a couple of miles away will help lengthen our rotation for potatoes, allow more cereal and forage production to feed the cattle.
An 80kW wind turbine has been running for a year generating twice the electricity we use in the dairy. The trick will be to make better use of this capacity rather than exporting surplus and then buying back from the grid.
Two members of the workforce have turned 65; both are working part time, which means we are busy. But we have two additions to the workforce, who at 19 and 24, are doing their bit for the average age.
Since my last contribution, both Rachel and I have turned 40, one of us taking it better than the other. Our children are now in second year of senior and last year of primary schools. I still follow the Cornish Pirates. Results so far this season mean it has not been quite the party of old. My Sunday mornings are often spent on the touchline at mini-rugby.
There is still no smartphone in my pocket. I am yet to be convinced of their merits or ability to survive an obligatory dip in a water trough.
I believe there are good times ahead for British farmers, but am not sure how many will be fit enough to enjoy them. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a new year that is significantly better than the last.
Richard Thomas farms 365ha at Land’s End in Cornwall. There are 250 dairy cows with 400 dairy replacements and beef; 180ha of early potatoes are packed and grown on the farm for supermarket customers.
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