4 September 1998

Barley hope was too high

BEFORE going too far, I need to clarify the report about our barley harvest (On Our Farms, Aug 7), which was somewhat exaggerated, writes Tim Green.

We began to harvest Vimers barley just before we left for a trip to the Nantwich Show in England. We were also sorting lambs for immediate selling, which meant our contractor with the combine was left to sort himself out.

Initial yield reports were promising and the heap of grain looked impressive in our store. But the French have a saying which roughly translated means: "Never sell your bear skin until youve shot your bear." As it turned out, its now clear that our early optimism was based on what the standing crop had looked like.

We recently received the results from the one load we sold to the co-operative at £63/t. It showed a moisture content of 13.6% and a specific weight of 63kg/hl. There are price deductions for anything under 63kg/hl and there was no way my driver was going to accept anything less, even if the machine said 62 point something.

When we calculated the barley in store our "40t" heap turned out to be only 28t, no matter which way we measured it. The end result is that our final yield was only 5t/ha (2t/acre) and not the 6.5 t/ha (2.63t/acre) we estimated initially.

One factor behind the yield discrepancy could have been our late harvest, which resulted in higher-than-average pre-header losses. The wet weather not only resulted in a laid crop, it also made our contractors late. That was not a good combination and, because of our stony soil, the combine table could not get low enough and some of the crop was left behind.

Our wheat has fared better. The variety Tilbury yielded 8t/ha (3.2t/acre) weighed off the farm, although its straw yield was disappointing.

The other wheats, Altria and Tremie, did almost as well. They suffered from lodging, but quality was adequate with a specific weight of about 76kg/hl and no moisture problems despite combining late into a night of heavy dew.

The night-combined crops produce superior swaths of straw, both in terms of quantity and quality. Because we are buying-in straw at a cost of £31/t delivered and stacked, every bit of our own production is important.

After spraying barley stubbles to deal with increasing levels of couchgrass, all our cereal ground has been sown with either kale, rape or stubble turnips.

Because of excessive wear on the contractors seed drill, which he neglected to mention, some of the seed rates were too high. The actual sowing rate bore little resemblance to the calibrated rate, so we ended up working by trial and error with reasonable success.

Now we need some rain but the forecast is again for dry weather.

The recent field activity has resulted in the tractors drinking plenty of diesel so it was comforting to find fresh supplies at a seasonal low of 14.6p/litre.

Average compares

That compares with an average price of 15.3p/litre. The lower price was proposed by our local dealer in an attempt to get me back as a loyal customer. He is impossible to work with on a regular basis, because no matter how many years we have traded together, he will not give his best price from the word go.

Every time we need to buy fuel, I ring round and he will always match the cheapest on offer. In the long run he loses out, because to keep him on his toes we periodically have to buy from others.

Our last lot of cattle went to a new buyer, who used to work years ago for our original sheep group days. Since moving to his new job he has increased cattle throughput five-fold, which is encouraging in itself.

Because our new sheep group has no direct contact with the cattle buyers they can no longer influence prices to our advantage. But those have been reasonably buoyant and some examples are in the table.

Various deductions were made for taxes and transport, which amounted to a total of £7.65/animal.

We were pleasantly surprised by the weight of the bull because he was very Holstein and came straight from running with the cows. He was too temperamental to run on for finishing and, in any event, I was afraid prices would slip. One lean barren cow had failed to put on weight, despite being dry for some weeks, so we decided to cut our losses and send her as well.

We sent three Limousin cross heifers – two had produced calves and one had stayed empty. In hindsight, the lightest one should have been kept on but, at the time, I was concerned that prices might fall.

As an additional bonus when we sold this batch, we were guaranteed payment in 14 days, rather than the more usual three weeks to one month.

Unfortunately the money seldom lingers in our bank account and we have bought 10 yearling Holstein heifers at £357 each, which is a fair price given todays brisk trade in breeding stock.

Good in-calf heifers are changing hands at £1000 a piece, with a premium for the local Normande breed.With cull cow prices staying buoyant and given the incentives to improve cell counts by culling infected cows, there is little likelihood of breeding prices slipping.

Vimer cattle prices

Cattle Weight (kg dw) Price (£/kg) Total (£)

Holstein bull 462.7 1.63 755.41

Barren Holstein cow 317.5 1.91 605.81

Lean barren Holstein cow 251.2 1.22 307.55

Holstein maiden heifer 342.4 1.94 663.87

Limousin x Holstein heifer 307.9 1.91 587.55

Limousin x Holstein heifer 312.6 1.91 596.43

Limousin x Holstein heifer 261.6 1.81 472.45

Theres always plenty to smile about with Tim Green at Vimer. Harvest has finished and although barley yields were down on expectations, the wheats fared better. Cull cattle prices have also held up reasonably well, says Tim.