22 October 1999

Mixed farm futures bright

CUMBRIAN mixed farmer Richard Warburton is confident about farmings future.

Like everyone else, he has never known every livestock and arable sector to be suffering so badly at once. But he remains optimistic that better times are ahead.

"They may not be just around the corner, but once we are out of this mess I feel those who have managed to hang on will see the industry back on track. It may be a very different industry to the one we have known, but I am still confident profitability will return."

Key to his mixed farming success is the ability to sell grain and straw to local farmers direct and to use contractors to slash production costs.

Mr Warbuton, 40, farms three units at Colby, near Appleby, Cumbria, with his brother Robert. A third brother, Tom, is a sleeping partner in the business.

The familys original farm, Colby Laithes, extends to 87ha (216 acres). In 1990 further land was acquired taking the business to 259ha (640 acres). The farm employs two full-time staff, with part-time week-end help.

Nether Haugh has 50ha (125 acres) of arable crops plus 500 North of England Mule ewes producing Suffolk and Texel sired prime lambs. At nearby Colby Laithes 170 Holstein-Friesians are milked.

Cropping this year comprised 16ha (40 acres) of winter wheat (half grown for whole-crop forage), 28ha (70 acres) of winter barley and 5ha (12 acres) of maize. Around 65 tonnes of winter barley is sold to local farmers as stock feed – it has been making £70/t this season. The rest is used for home feeding.

As north west delegate on the NFUs national cereals committee Mr Warburton grows the smallest arable area of any member. "Big arable growers from the east with 10 times our area have their problems, but it is equally important that family farms like this have a voice," he says.

To cope with the price pressure on cereal margins the mixed family farm makes the most of it is smaller-scale.

"Because of the limited area we use contractors to do most of the cereal work – ploughing, drilling and combining. We have less man power to pay and because we sell produce direct to other farmers we do not have drying costs.

"It enables us to keep a very strict control on costs. We know that ploughing is £11/acre, drilling £14.50 and combining £21."

Scale still has an appeal though. Some assets may be sold soon to raise capital to finance additional quota for a planned increase in dairy cow numbers. But the cereal area will not suffer.

"Cereals are equally justified on this scale, even though we are faced with returns as low as those on much larger farms. Our advantage is that we have a market for our cereals. We can readily sell barley in this predominantly livestock area where sheep and beef producers are all looking for a more economical way to feed stock. And that goes for straw, too, which is making about £42/t this year.

"I am an optimist and British farming will survive even this crisis. I am quite confident about that." &#42

CUMBRIAN UNIT

&#8226 259ha mixed farm.

&#8226 Confident about future.

&#8226 Sales of undried grain and straw to neighbours direct.

&#8226 Contract operations.

&#8226 Minimal labour demand.