2 August 2002

Milk yields drying up

RECENT dry weather has stopped grass growth and consequently milk production has slipped, writes Tim Green. First-cut grass silage is already being fed with 2kg/head of home-grown rolled wheat and 1kg/head of a soya-based mix. Even so, compared with maize silage this diet is not so effective when it comes to boosting production.

We will have to look at buying some standing maize to harvest this year in order to ensure we have sufficient forage to see us through the winter. Normally a standing crop sells at between £600 and £700/ha (£243-283/acre) excluding the cost of harvesting.

Earlier plans to ensile our triticale have been dropped because my arable consultant is convinced it should yield well. The fact that nobody has had any experience with whole-crop silage also helped us to change our minds.

Triticale straw

Grain yield aside, the quantity of the triticale straw looks as though it will be very useful in helping to reduce the need for bought in straw which will costing about £30/t. Hay and straw prices are back to normal after last years flying trade when everything was in short supply. Because we have no space for inside storage of straw and limited space for the hay, we are building outside stacks and sheeting using high grade plastic sheets costing £66.40 each. So far, we have had only barley straw delivered which is a very bright sample this year.

Grain yields are considered to be a little above average this season following the pattern set by oilseed rape. Prices are not so good, however. Barley is trading locally at £54.40/t, provided it has a specific weight of 63kg. Unfortunately crops in this area are struggling to top a specific weight of 60. Figures of 57 and 58 are more common which are resulting in penalties being applied.

Oats are only just beginning to be harvested and prices are very volatile. Currently they are trading at about £75/t but the forecast is for good yields which, coupled with the greater area this year, could see prices falling back. Provided the price is reasonable, we will be looking to buy some in for our sheep rations because too much wheat in their diet does not seem to work as well.

Fortunately, we are not dependent on selling all our grain and can convert it through our own livestock.

We will be looking to make economies in our dairy ration this winter. According to our dairy costings service, Vimers feed input at 328g/litre, is well above the average in the group which is only 220g. Feeble excuses that come to the fore are that Vimer is a very dry farm in summer and we have a building that does nothing to encourage big intakes of forage. Clearly, as school reports sometimes say – we must do better.

If it were not for our reasonable milk price the problem would be more serious. However, last years average milk price of 23.7p/litre, based on 4.09% butterfat; 3.35% protein and all hygiene bonuses, will slip back this year because of the pressure on commodity prices and the index calculation on supermarket sales. Any attempts by buyers to reduce the price of milk will be resisted by French farmers, but it is inevitable that there will be some cutbacks.

The June price, including all bonuses, was 19.2p/litre. Because butterfat had fallen to 3.85% and protein to 3% our quality bonus fell by 0.6p/litre

Economy measure

One way of making some economy would be to zero-graze grass from fields which are too far away for the cows to graze or to zero-graze catch-crops of Italian rye-grass after cereals and maize. Following a recent trip to Norway to visit our youngest daughter, the idea of a small direct-cut machine came back to mind because they have them scattered everywhere in that country.

By coincidence, one of our regular machinery reps had just bought in a machine to sell for a client. At £650 and in very good condition, it is now sitting in the yard and we will see if it can be put to good use or whether a zero-grazing system will be too much trouble to operate. At that price we are taking no risk because the machine should easily fetch more if we decide to sell it.

We will doubtless be sowing more catch crops behind cereals and maize this year because of the emphasis being put on the environment and soaking up nitrogen. Having just completed our plan depandage", or muck-spreading plan, for last year all this came back to mind. Every year now we have to complete a form for the water authority covering stocking rates; details of cattle housing; areas where slurry and FYM has been spread with quantities and dates.

No pollution tax

In order to be as accurate as possible, we do this with the co-op which has a specialist and a computer program to help. The service costs £100, plus VAT, and will hopefully avoid the risk of paying a pollution tax, which so far we have managed to avoid.

Because our buildings are not currently up to standard, we have 12 months to do something about them, after that we will doubtless be taxed. Meanwhile, we have been drawing plans and negotiating with our landlord to explore how best to proceed.

As a tenant farmer with no family to continue farming and the current uncertainty in the industry, its not a decision to be taken lightly. &#42

MNo need to grasp at straws. Tim Green predicts straw yields will be good at Vimer this harvest which will help to reduce reliance on bought in straw at £30/t. With limited storage space inside for hay only, Vimers straw will be stored outside and sheeted.