2 January 1998

For dough not show…

Nigel Smith milks 70 cows

ona 23ha (57-acre) county

council smallholding at

Lutterworth, Leics

"FARM for dough and not for show" has always been our business motto.

During the four years we have been farming we have focussed on building up an economic milk quota. At £3500 a cow net of tax, buying quota is a steady old job. So far, we have bought 300,000 litres.

The farm may look pretty spartan and devoid of any machinery bearing fresh paint (or any paint at all!) but we feel we have achieved reasonable balance sheet growth.

In essence, the medium and long-term future will be more of the same. But the farm is saturated with quota and 1998 will see essential cash being spent on cow accommodation, silage storage and a new bulk tank.

Savings in input costs will, at best, equate to 0.5p/litre. As we do not lease quota, we cannot look to a saving there. Similarly, other much heralded measures such as extended grazing and more home-grown forage are only tinkering with the problem. Therefore, increasing milk output is our main approach to counter lower prices. The extra output will be achieved in line with quota purchase – leasing is definitely not an option for this business.

Better genetics seem to be lifting yields rapidly. I would expect our herd average to rise to 9000 litres a cow on 12-hourly milkings by the new millennium (currently 8300 litres). On that point, we are spending more money on semen, not less. Tied in with better genetics is improved nutrition. Grazing here will become less important as more control and consistency is required in the diet. In Leicestershire, a vast range of quality bulk feeds can be produced at well below the costs of making both grass and maize silage. So, less milk from forage a cow, coupled with a lighter stocking rate is a logical step for us.

There is no quick-fix solution to the problem of lower milk prices. But as a starting point, at least we have clearly defined objectives for the next 12 months, two years, five years and beyond.

Nigel Smith is relying on increased output, coupled with improved genetics, to counter falling milk prices.