3 November 2000

GRASS USE HOLDS KEY TOPROFITS

WIGTOWNSHIRE milk producer Ian McIntyre has switched to spring calving and extended grazing as his best route to profitable dairying.

"We were autumn calving with 300 cows averaging 6300 litres, lots of silage, lots of machinery, feeder wagon, Matbro, the lot. And we had a lot of debt," he told visitors to the MDC-sponsored open day.

"I looked at the Irish example and listened to New Zealand consultants and decided that I couldnt do much about the price of milk but I could do something about cost of production."

In the far west of southern Scotland, he has the climate to get more from grass. "It was obvious the key to cheaper production was to graze grass at the shoulders of the normal season. We have the weather to do it, but I would contend that every dairy farmer can go some way to extend the grazing season," said Mr McIntyre.

"I am still in the early stages of the switch to spring calving. There has been a cost, but I am confident the savings will come next year. If grazed grass is the basis of the system then it demands a spring-calving herd."

He is also confident of other savings flowing from the system. "I have a man retiring shortly. I will not replace him and I will sell his tractor.

"Far too many of us have paid far too much attention to margins over the years. Margin over concentrates, margin per acre and so on drove us to increased numbers and increased yields. But at what cost? It was good business for the feed and machinery firms but often not all that good for the farmer.

"The real key is the cost of producing a litre of milk and I am convinced that achieving the lowest possible cost means getting more milk from grazed grass," said Mr McIntyre.

Producing each litre of milk at the lowest price possible means getting more from grazed grass as they do in Ireland and New Zealand.