1 October 1999

But experts counsel caution

WHILE some consultants agree that increasing output will help improve farm profits, others urge caution and are concerned about whether the move will be beneficial on many farms.

Devon-based Axient consultant Richard Foster said many producers have cut overhead costs and maximised cow numbers for current facilities, so now have to increase cow yields.

Increasing production from 5000 to 6000 litres in one lactation is feasible, although its easier to push yields in a block calving herd.

"But have an idea of the targets you want to achieve to increase yield efficiently, with a set goal for yield, feed rate and time-scale." Getting nutrition right this winter and having enough quota to cover production are critical, he said.

However Andersonss Tony Evans urged caution over increasing yield a cow.

"Andersons Dairy Manger costings show units produced an extra 150 litres/cow in the last four months, in a reasonable summer for grass growth, but an extra 120kg of concentrate/cow was used to produce it: All the benefit of increasing yield is, therefore, removed with quota cost."

Also concerned that increasing output means leasing in quota was Oxon consultant Mike Ewence, speaking on the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants stand.

"At 6.5-7p a litre to lease quota, which will have cost 8.5-9p/litre in concentrates to produce, costs are not much below the milk price.

"As you replace forage with concentrates, extra litres cost more to produce." And you can incur a more expensive feeding system, and reduce herd fertility and longevity in the process, he said.

"Theres much to be said for lower cost production systems which accept lower yields in return for higher profits. The difficulty is were all driven by the desire for higher yields."

Dairy consultant Christian Fox also believes that except for high output herds with high costs, increasing yield is not the answer.

"For a typical 7000-litre herd the answer is probably not increasing output, as there are always hidden costs." These costs can include a higher replacement rate, vet bills and labour, he cautioned.

However cutting costs in an existing system is often not the best solution. But changing the system to eliminate costs is, he said.

Ian Browne of the Farm Consultancy Group advised producers to form discussion groups to discuss costs, as for many it would lead to increased profits.

"Producers in these groups seem to move up a gear." For some this has helped save more than 2.5p a litre in production costs in the past year.