17 August 2001

Decent prices and rain boost morale

Welcome rains in July

have transformed the feed

position at both Sand Farm

and Mincombe Posts, and

decent prices for the first

organic lambs have also

boosted morale.

John Burns reports

EXCEPTIONAL July rains and showery weather for most of August to date has left Stuart Hailey feeling very relieved about prospects for winter feed supplies and optimistic about yields of his May-drilled barleys, which are looking very well indeed.

Rape and stubble turnips, which were struggling to fight off flea beetle a few weeks ago, responded to the 125mm (5ins) of rain which fell last month, by swiftly growing into a good crop on three-quarters of the field. They provided one feed a day for the milkers from Jul 3 until Aug 12, once again proving their worth on this drought-prone farm.

An Italian ryegrass/red clover ley sown at Mincombe Posts last autumn, which disappointed at first-cut, has regrown into a thick crop. But a similar ley at Mincombe, sown this spring and hit by drought, looks patchy.

With more than half the herd now dry and grazing fields across the valley, the grassland accessible to the milkers has an opportunity to recover and build up stocks for grazing later in the year. Mr Hailey has always switched from a tightly controlled rotational grazing system in the early part of the year to set stocking during the summer to allow the swards to strengthen and thicken up. He then reverts to rotational grazing in the autumn.

All second-cut silage has been round-baled to avoid the wastage regularly experienced when feeding second-cut clamp silage. Some 12ha (30 acres) of extra (rented) grassland has also been round-baled and hauled to Sand Farm. None of the in-calf heifers which Mr Hailey planned to sell have yet found a buyer and so the earlier calving batch are now likely to be calved into the herd.

The price received for his organic milk has been less than the 29.5p/litre initially expected. In May, he received an average of 23.6p/litre after all deductions, and in June it was 22.37p/litre.

Mr Hailey accepts that production has temporarily leapt ahead of market development – his own herd produced 11% more milk than predicted in May and 25% more in June. The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-op is paying 29.5p/litre on a proportion of his milk, determined by how close his deliveries are to predictions. Had Mr Haileys June deliveries matched his forecast, his milk price would have been almost 24p/litre.

He fully supports OMSCos decision to finance a vigorous professional promotion of the unique features of organic milk. His only regret is that no other group selling organic milk is contributing to the campaign.

"As usual everyone benefits at the expense of those who pay for promotion. But all we can do is leave it to their consciences. Im not in favour of knocking conventional milk. Theres nothing wrong with it. But I do think we should highlight what is different about organic milk and how it is produced. If we dont believe there is a difference we shouldnt expect shoppers to pay more for it."

Mr Hailey is also encouraged that Yeo Valley, the leading producer of organic dairy products and a major customer of OMSCo, is also investing heavily in promotion of its products.

In late July, 32 lambs were selected at Mincombe Posts for sale through the Organic Livestock Marketing Co-op to Lloyd Maunder. With transport costs currently high per head because of disinfection costs and the foot-and-mouth controls banning farm-to-farm collections, the aim was to send as many lambs as possible in the one load.

But it was clear that three would exceed the maximum weight (23kg) on which the organic price would be paid, and they were kept back for private sale. Even so, one of the 29 lambs sent scaled 23.5kg and returned only £33.18 – the conventional price.

The need to make up a good bunch also meant sending some very lean lambs. But, excluding the overweight lamb, the 28 averaged a pleasing £58.84/head, which boosted everyones morale. Nearly half graded U for conformation, a dozen were Rs and three were Os. Fat classes ranged from 1 to 3L. Prices paid were 315p/kg for U3L, 305p/kg for R3L, 290p for O2, and 275p for O1. But, as Mr Hailey points out, to meet organic standards the flock had to be reduced by 20% from 200 ewes to 160, and the higher prices must be viewed in that context. &#42

FARMFACTS

&#8226 Sand Farm, Sidbury, Devon, an 89ha (220 acre) dairy farm in organic conversion.

&#8226 A further 64ha (158 acres) at nearby Mincombe Posts farmed under an FBT.

&#8226 100 dairy cows plus 60 followers.

&#8226 180 ewes – mainly Mules, some Suffolk crosses. Beef suckler herd being established.

&#8226 Steep, red clay/greensand slopes at Sand Farm, rising up to flinty clay on plateau. Easier soils and flatter fields at Mincombe Posts.

&#8226 Mainly down to grass/clover leys; oats/peas and lucerne/grass mixes grown for silage, plus cereals for feed.

&#8226 Some areas in Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

&#8226 Three full-time staff.