19 August 1997

Journey to Kelso rewarded

Rugleys sheep were again in fierce demand at the Kelso ram sales. But the news from the farms arable and beef enterprises isnt as good, as Tim Relf reports

THE trip to Kelso last week proved to be a good one for the Jacksons, whose sheep achieved their best-ever price.

The 24 Suffolk shearlings (See Business, Aug 15) averaged £686, up £15 on the previous highest average taken two years ago.

Again, four figures was hit – this time with a son of Westend Panache which made £1000.

All the sheep that made the journey north from Alnwick found new homes. As Alan says: "We dont take them all the way up there to bring them home again."

Rugleys regular buyers were again dominant, although four went to first-timers, including one from Welshpool.

In all, the Jacksons grossed nearly £17,000, although there were some deductions. The sale has an entry fee of about £9/sheep, auctioneers commission equates to another £27/sheep and the haulage cost was £6/sheep.

It is also traditional to pay three months livestock insurance to the people who buy stock. This "luck penny insurance" was nearly £20/head.

"But we wouldnt get these prices if we sold the sheep privately," says Alan. "People go to Kelso looking for good sheep – and theyre happy to pay for good sheep."

One quality animal of someone elses particularly caught Alans eye – so much so, in fact, that he bought it.

This latest addition to the Rugley stable is a tight-skinned, long Texel at £1000. Hell soon begin his duties as a crossing ram, to produce commercial lambs out of British Milksheep ewes.

Overall, the sale receipts are very welcome at this time of year, when bills are falling thick and fast on the doormat.

There are the charges for contract baling and grain drying, while autumn cultivations are taking their toll on machinery. Rent also falls due this month. The three months to wait before the IACS cheque arrives seems a very long time.

While the Jacksons were heading to the Borders, the last of the corn was being cut at home. After a stop-start beginning to harvest, the end-date of Sept 11 was about normal.

"But its been the worst harvest in terms of yield and quality for 10 years," says Alan.

Winter barley and wheat have yielded about 6.8t/ha (2.75t/acre). And the spring rape was the most depressing crop of all, giving about 2t/ha (0.8t/acre) – about half its winter counterpart.

The rapes oil content is also cause for concern. Suggestions are that, at about 31% compared with the expected 40%, values could be discounted £23/t.

Wet weather has also caused problems. Some of the early barley came off the field at over 20% moisture content. It was a similar story with wheats, the early samples of which were cut about 22%, averaging 19% overall.

TyneGrain, the north-east co-op of which Alan has been a member for over 10 years, charges £7.25/t for drying grain between 19.1% and 20% moisture content.

There is a grain drier at Rugley but its a 1963 model. It needs money spent on it and, even then, would be very labour intensive.

"With staff stretched at harvest time, running it would be difficult to justify.

"Plus, storage is limited – and what little we do have no longer meets the new regulations, so we wouldnt have anywhere to put the grain even if we kept it on the farm.

"If we ever get time, we might end up taking it out and selling it for spares."

About 140t of barley has been kept on the farm, however, for cattle feed. The trouble is, says Alan, everyones done the same – and this has driven store cattle prices up.

"Low bushel weights, after severe lodging, and the low prices have prompted people to retain grain for feed and this has boosted demand for stores to unjustifiably high levels."

Twice Alan has been offered cattle recently. Twice he has said no.

"The gross margin on the animals we bought as calves and sold in the spring this year was wafer-thin. By the time fixed costs were allowed for, we lost money. Im not about to do that again."n

Not a huge pile of grain, after the worst harvest for 10 years…


Cattle sold spring

199519961997

Sale weight589598611

Sale price772647601

GM20212489

GM after intrst120579

RUGLEY FARM

&#8226 A 280ha (690-acre) arable and grass unit in the north east, farmed by Alan and Lorna Jackson on a full agricultural tenancy from the Duke of Northumberland.

&#8226 Heavy land growing combinable crops and grass, 25% in the LFA.

&#8226 Continental cross beef cattle finished on semi-intensive system.

&#8226 British Milksheep producing prime lambs, plus small pedigree Suffolk and Texel enterprises.

&#8226 Three full-time employees, supplemented by casual labour.