Clearing up after a very pour show
With half the arable area still to drill and
another bad weather forecast, decisions on
spring seed have to be made at Conyboro
this week. Suzie Horne reports
DRILLING proper at Conyboro was brought to a sudden halt as the heavens opened on Oct 6.
Although another 5ha (12 acres) was snatched on Oct 27, weve still got 120 acres of wheat, 105 of beans and 145 of winter oats to drill, according to the original cropping plan, says manager Duncan Rawson.
A massive 368mm (14.5in) of rain fell in October and a further 86mm (3.4in) in the first week of Nov-ember. Some of the farm has been under water for two weeks, with patches of drilled crops now rotting.
On the farms sloping land, only about 10% of sown area is affected, but on the flat its not so good, says Mr Rawson. "We cant even get on with a plough. Weve still got straw bales out and we cant do anything about it."
Spring seed availability and price is one worry. The impact on his gross margin of perhaps having to drill all the remaining area with spring crops is another.
Cropping options would be spring wheat, beans, peas and set-aside. But if the pea land is not winter-ploughed there is little chance of getting the crop in. It was also very disappointing last year (see table).
Arable men Paul Wren and John Bartholomew have been kept busy with estate work as they wait for the chance to get back onto the land.
Grasses which they drilled earlier in the autumn have come well, with an Italian ryegrass catch-crop put in ahead of maize looking very forward. Mr Rawson plans to put keep sheep on it. A further 3.9ha (9.6acres) of long-term perennial ryegrass has also taken well.
The dairy has had an eventful six weeks since the last report. In the most dramatic day a batch of cows escaped and helped themselves to a pile of ground wheat.
One died, another two were operated on so the contents of their distended rumens could be emptied. One of these also failed to pull through. With two vets on farm for more than five hours each, Mr Raw-son is not looking forward to the bill.
At the suggestion of herdsman Chris Hemmings, the dairy herd has been split into three groups for feeding, with high yielders getting maintenance plus 35 litres, the middle batch maintenance plus 25 and lows, maintenance plus 18.
"The majority of heifers are in the middle group, and if the condition is not there then we will up their feed in the parlour," says Mr Rawson. He is unhappy that cows have not settled on their new ration. Butterfats have been very variable and yields have dropped back compared with a year ago.
The ration is based on grass and maize silages, rapemeal, ground wheat and molasses. While the plan was to avoid using soya, some will now be included in the high yielder group ration. Further blood tests highlighted a shortage of degradable protein, which could eventually affect fertility.
"I am questioning what we are doing with these cheaper ingredients, because of the hassle. We have storage problems and it takes longer to feed," says Mr Rawson.
But the results from all the hard work and care put in this year are difficult to see. Yields in October were 25.7 litres/cow/day against 26.7 in October 1999. Rolling results show average yield at 7486 litres against 7591 a year ago and concentrate use tipping over the 2t/cow mark.
"Finding those extra litres has been very difficult. We were pushing cows less hard last year and getting a higher yield. They could still take off, and if they do, fine, but we have to keep trying. If the milk price does improve significantly, then we could up the concentrate."
Maize was cut in the first week of October and, despite a drizzly start, came in well. At 39.35%, the starch content is high, as is ME at 12.2 and D value at 75.5%.
"The grain had gone over slightly, but the weather wouldnt let us in any sooner. So although our starch is high, some of it will not be available to the cows because it will go through too quickly. With slightly wet grass silage too, it will be fast moving.
"In hindsight we should have increased the chop length, but I was concerned about doing that at the time because of uneven ripening," says Mr Rawson.
The temporary addition of 15 cows from another Sentry farm whose dairy is being rebuilt has complicated quota requirements. In a normal year the farm needs to lease in around 200,000 litres on the open market.
But the news of another month of under-quota milk production has made one of his recent quota leasing deals look expensive, at 2.4p/litre for 50,000 litres.
He had a better day last Friday when he leased another 100,000litres at 0.5p/litre at the dispersal sale of another Sentry herd. *
After the flood… John Bartholomew (left) and Paul Wren ponder how to clear up dung from a neighbouring farm that was carried onto Conyboros land by the swollen River Ouse.
Conyboro dairy costings. Rolling results to end of October 2000
Oct 99 Oct 00
Cows in herd 220 234
Yield (litres/cow) 7591 7486
Milk price (p/litre) 19.43 16.881
Conc use (kg/litre) 0.24 0.28
Conc price (£/t) 116 115
Total feed cost(p/litre) 3.46 3.66
Margin over purchased feed(p/litre) 15.97 13.22
• Conyboro Farms, in East Sussex, a 405ha (1002 acre) arable and dairy unit, farmed on five-year contract by Sentry Farms.
• Land is mainly weald clay with a small strip of greensand.
• Arable crops -all first wheats this season, also winter beans, peas, oats.
• 230-cow dairy, yielding 7696 litres a cow in year to April 2000.
• Calving mainly June to September. Total dairy forage area of 122ha (302 acres).
• Five full-time staff, including manager.
Arable gross margin (£/acre) at Conyboro Farms. Harvest 2000
Acres Budget Actual GM GM*
Winter wheat 356 220 196.20
Winter oats 87 188 179.26
Winter beans 84 185 122.12
Peas 45 174 156.25
Set-aside 71 66.50 73.65
* Based on latest information (not all crops sold).