3 March 2000

Barley sale brings a smile

Theres encouraging news for

the malting barley crop at

Tirinie, though on the sheep

front, pregnancy scanning

results have been a little

disappointing. Allan Wright

reports.

IAN Duncan Millar has sold half his malting barley forward for a good premium. Although the £85/t contract price is down £13 on the year, it is 25% above the forward value for feed grain, he says.

"We have lost our seed grain contract and that forced a rethink on marketing. I am not shedding too many tears about the seed contract, although it was useful because nitrogen levels were not so critical and seed crops followed turnips quite nicely in the rotation.

"Now we have to concentrate on malting barley and £85/t for half the acreage is a solid start, considering my first draft budget figure was £70/t.

"I have decided to use a grain pool to market the other half. Im an enthusiastic co-operator and know that, as an individual, I have very little clout in the market place. The combined strength of grain co-operatives must give farmers a route to market strength," he says.

Recent budgets highlight the pressures farming are facing. The process begins with the hard facts from the previous year followed by a thorough analysis of each enterprise to give the mix for the next season.

"I put a holiday in the Bahamas in each year and, once again, its been the first cancellation. The priorities are an acceptable level of family drawings, followed by farm maintenance and new machinery or other capital investment. I am confident there will be a positive return, but the margin for re-investment is tiny and would be unacceptable in any other industry," he says.

Investment will be contained to £2000 this year on a fertiliser spreader and a furrow press, the former an essential replacement and the latter to improve and speed spring cultivations.

The hill unit of Auchnafree which Mr Duncan Millar manages looks like returning an end-of-year positive balance of about £4000, thanks to more lambs and a late season price rise. "We have the average up to £19.70 a head for 1300, with only about 70 left to sell and 670 ewe hoggs away for wintering.

"That means a lamb crop of 91% from 2185 ewes which is the best for years. Even the last cast ewes made £7 compared with £3 for the cream of the crop in the autumn."

The draft budget for Auchnafree for the coming year suggests that, even with a sheep annual premium of £13 a head, margins will be tight. He is cautious about lamb prices, given the pressure from cheap pig and poultry meat.

Ewes on the high hill at Auchnafree are not scanned. But those at Tirinie, along with others on the family unit of Wester Tullich which Mr Duncan Millar manages, are. At Tirinie, scanning showed 13 of the 300 ewes to be yeld (since sold). Among the rest, 29 sets of triplets, 191 twins, and 67 singles are expected. "Im disappointed about the number of singles. Most of the culprits are Texel crosses and we cant quite put a finger on the cause. We are in the top third of Signet-recorded flocks but we know we could do better," he says.

However, the small flock of pedigree Texels synchronised for AI has scanned very well. Eight ewes are due to have seven pairs and one set of triplets. The main lambing at Tirinie begins on April 10 to allow the spring arable work to be completed.

"The profitability of the sheep enterprise here depends on the absence of labour, apart from my own, so lambing has to be scheduled to fit in with spring sowing."

There is a full time shepherd at Wester Tullich and it is the enthusiasm of Mark Armstrong that promoted scanning there. The exercise, which has increased lamb sales per 100 ewes from the low 80s to the high 90s in three years, was done last week and showed 128 with twins and 533 singles. But 60 were barren, 20 more than expected.

"There are two explanations, a Blackface tup lamb which did not perform in one of the groups and the fact that we put Texels out to sweep up on the 16th day rather than the 18th in an effort to get more cross lambs.

"They did not like the weather, would not go to the hill, and Im sure some ewes were missed in the first two days. We should have used Cheviot tups to sweep up as we did at Auchnafree," he says.

Scanning is used to target feeding. Ewes carrying twins, together with about 40 more which are short of body condition, will get hay and about 0.45kg (1lb) a day of concentrates on low ground. Singles are back on the hill, receiving concentrates rising to 0.22kg by the start of lambing on April 28. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Farm staff of one, for tractor work.

Scanning has thrown up some mixed results, says Ian Duncan Millar. However, it allows him to target feeding more accurately.