7 April 2000

Extensification payments rest on finishing strategy

You cant predict when your six dates to calculate

stocking density for claiming extensification will be, so how

can producers plan their beef finishing enterprises?

James Garner reports

KEEPING cattle profitably under new Agenda 2000 rules is not just about good husbandry, it is also about keeping spotless records, being armed with target finishing dates and selling cattle when theyre ready.

Changes to Agenda 2000 Extensification Payment Scheme (EPS) rules mean that when beef producers elect for extensification, they must now target cattle to finish at certain times, so they do not accrue additional livestock units.

They can lose extensification payments by overrunning target sale dates – which means stock are counted too often – or, worse still, becoming one-year-old and moving from 0.6LSU to 1LSU, says Signets Ian Ross.

To earn the biggest subsidy payment from extensification, producers need to average less than 1.6LSU/ha over their total forage area on six dates throughout the year, selected by MAFF.

To achieve this, Robert Knight of Barton Hall Farms Whistlow Farm, Middle Barton, Oxon, has set target finish dates and manages finishing cattle to meet these deadlines.

At Whistlow Farm, this means finishing steers and heifers from his 105 mid-February calving suckler cows at 22 months and 18-20 months, respectively. Mr Knight hopes this will result in average stocking densities lower than 1.6LSUs over a year, allowing him to claim an extra £4250.

Stocking density

But trying to predict average stocking density over the year is nearly impossible because it can vary depending on MAFFs selection of six random and retrospective dates, says Mr Knight.

In his situation, a check on stocking density in September, before calves become six-months-old and worth 0.6LSU each, would cause few concerns. However, a check at the end of October would add 60LSUs because calves born in February/ March would be six-months-old.

Examining the worst case scenario over the course of a year is the only way to plan, says Mr Ross. So, armed with a computer program that calculates annual average stocking density, he has worked out that Mr Knights is 1.7LSUs.

This EPS stocking density will qualify for the higher extensification threshold of less than 2LSU/ha. Therefore, it will be worth Mr Knight claiming the upper tier extensification payments.

But will he find enough forage area to claim super-extensification at the current stocking density?

Mr Ross says his calculation is based on every animal that is sold being counted and every animal that is bought being counted, too. The real situation is unlikely to be so bad, he says.

Nevertheless, the worst case example shows Mr Knight needs an extra 15ha (37 acres) of forage area to average less than 1.6LSUs.

To meet this and to gain super-extensification payments, Mr Knight plans to make use of another 6ha (15 acres) of forage area and to ensure cattle are sold before they accumulate extra LSUs.

He also plans to sell steers after he has made a second BSP claim at 20-months-old and when they have finished their subsequent two-month retention period.

Heifers will be sold at about 18-months-old. "They must not become two-years-old and worth 1LSU," says Mr Knight.

But he emphasises that this means having excellent records and knowing how many cattle are on the farm every day. Adopting a ruthless nature to finishing cattle also helps. "As soon as an animal is fit and free from a retention period it must be marketed," he says.

Other options do exist. In future years, Mr Knight could stop growing forage maize, says Mr Ross. Under Agenda 2000, maize silage cannot be counted for EPS stocking rate, even if it is grown on non-eligible land, he says.

Even so, maize can still be included in the claimed stocking density, for SCP and BSP claims and this remains below 2LSU/ha.

Ryegrass could replace maize. "Growing ryegrass would free up another 10ha of forage area," says Mr Ross. "As long as you took a mid-May first cut and a second cut six weeks later, you should have enough good quality forage to feed through winter."

It is also possible to rent extra forage acres, but this is an undesirable way out for Mr Knight. And cutting cow number by 20% to allow claims on his heifers is also undesirable because this reduces calf output and would only make sense when overheads were significantly reduced by keeping fewer cows.

SUPER-EXTENSIFICATION

&#8226 Stocking density less than 1.6LSU/ha.

&#8226 Plan on worst case scenario.

&#8226 Target cattle finishing.