12 June 1998

Contracting pays

off with income boost

Plenty of arable contract

work, good milk yields and

a heavy first cut of silage

have led to an air of

optimism at Whelan Farms.

Suzie Horne reports

LOW disease levels in the farms crops have allowed Andy Crow to maximise contract work away from the unit. The extra work had boosted income to £14,000 by the end of May, £4000 more than was budgeted for the three months to the end of June.

"Our wheats have very little septoria or rust – we have not had to chase any disease at all," says manager Robert Kilby.

Late germinating wild oats, however, have been a problem and control has proved more costly than expected, but savings should be made on budgeted fungicide spending.

Flag leaf sprays were completed last week. Mr Kilby has trialled 60ha (150 acres) of the strobilurin Landmark (kresoxim-methyl + epoxiconazole), split across three varieties and split within fields. On the remainder, either straight Opus (epoxiconazole) has been used or Alto (cyproconazole) with Bravo (chlorothalonil).

"The beans show a lot of potential – I have never seen so many flowers on the crop," says Mr Kilby. Rape is always difficult to judge, but he is hopeful that it may yield up to 3.46t/ha (1.4t/acre), 15% higher than forecast.

The farms Fastrac is to be replaced after doing 5,500 hours in three years. Mr Kilby has been shocked at the range of prices he has been quoted for its replacement – another 3 Series 155 Fastrac. There was an 18% difference between the initial quotes he was given.

The economics of whether to buy or contract hire for three years were very close. In the end buying was chosen because the residual value outweighed the contract hire benefits. The second tractor is also being replaced, but there is no hurry for this with the market in its present state

First cut silage went well, with the new leys of Italian ryegrass cut on May 10 and yielding 29.6t/ha (12t/acre), although they were quite wet at about 20% DM. The remainder of the first cut ground was cut on May 20 and is estimated to have yielded around 22.2t/ha (9t/acre) of a very dry 30 to 35% DM crop, giving a total of 1000t.

"Silage went well – so well that we will only be making 17 acres of second cut because we cannot get any more in the clamp," says Mr Kilby.

"We have got more tonnes off fewer acres and it will save us around £2000 in contracting charges. We will make some round bale silage though to buffer feed the cows.

"The quality seems good – it is very sugary. It had no rain on it once it was cut and although we had planned to wilt for longer than our usual 24 hours, I was worried about the weather."

The maize was drilled as planned on May 3 and germinated quickly. As a trial, one of the three fields was drilled with the farms own labour and Sulky combination drill and the others by contractor.

"Our field was not as precisely placed as with the maize drill, but it is just as far forward and looks well. It will have saved us £200 plus after costs. My only possible concern is that without even placement we could get some double cobbing where plants are too close," says Mr Kilby.

Sheep shearing has been very much a stop-start affair. It normally takes two days but frequent heavy rain meant it was spread over four days this year.

Lambs have not taken to the creep well. As a result they are finishing slowly and the first trial draw from the singles was made last Friday, when 80 were pulled out at 33 to 40kg for the abattoirs fieldsman to look at this week. Last year 240 finished lambs had left the farm by June 13.

Despite having 12 fewer cows than planned at this stage, milk production is on budget because the 7500 litre average yield has been reached far sooner than expected. Mr Kilby attributes this to several factors, including the realisation of genetic potential, a more settled period in terms of the structure of the herd and the attention to detail which he has been seeking, which was outlined at the staff meeting reported last month.

"We have improved TBCs, we have got the silage quality and quantity and were getting all the premiums we should although there is a bit more work to do on cell counts," he says. &#42

Plenty of contract work has boosted farm income by £4000. The Fastrac is to be replaced though Mr Kilby was surprised at the 18% difference in initial quotes for a new machine.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.