19 June 1998

NSAplans all bogged down

Rain has frustrated farming

activities and open day

preparations over the past

month. But that has given

the Daltons time to consider

ways to reduce professional

fees and finance charges.

Robert Davies reports

JUST a few days before the National Sheep Association demonstration the silage fields due to be used as car parks were uncut and John Daltons self-propelled harvester was struggling to finish contracts on neighbouring farms.

A gang of his contracting service workers who were offered overtime last weekend to complete painting and tidying around the buildings were greeted with a downpour that made it impossible to work.

"We have our fingers crossed that it will be all right on the day, and that visitors will understand if it is not," said Margaret Dalton. "The NSA said members wanted to see the farm they read about in farmers weekly, warts and all. The weather means that is probably what they are going to get."

But the partners have no qualms about the stock on show. The suckler cows look fit and have begun throwing some excellent calves. Unfortunately one heifer that was served by a straying Charolais bull produced an enormous dead bull calf after a very protracted calving. She has recovered well and is now suckling a Hereford cross suckler calf bought for £35.

Mrs Dalton hopes that the first Aberdeen Angus cross calves will be born in time for the event to demonstrate the plan to improve quality and margins by switching to Angus cross sucklers.

She has been cheered by the first EU moves to lift the beef export ban. Most of the last four forward stores sold again made disappointing prices. A steer did realise 108p/kg, but two out of three heifers made only 74p/kg and the third 81p/kg. To find comparable prices she has to delve back though many years of farm diaries.

"This farm needs cattle to manage grazing efficiently so we have to modify the system to make the best possible margins," she said.

The ewes have been sheared and are not showing any ill effects from the poor spring. Low temperatures have slowed grass growth but lambs appear to be growing at the usual rate. Six lambs have been sold through Farm Assured Welsh Livestocks Waitrose contract; however the first significant draw is expected on June 22.

A Welsh Office beef special premium cheque for £1931.61 helped ease the poor cash flow, and the search continues for ways of reducing costs. An on-farm meeting with their accountant could result in a 30% cut in accountancy fees.

He suggested they should use a computer program that would cut the amount of end-of-year work he has to do. The suggested software is already installed on the Daltons computer, but they and their office assistant had not used it.

Now the accountant is to provide on-farm help to input figures and operational training. In time this will allow them to supply all the information needed on disk.

After recent VAT problems the partners have also agreed to clear up accountancy anomalies remaining after the split of farm and contracting businesses.

This subject also came up during their annual bank review. They were advised that Special Js contracting should help cut the farms overdraft by quickly paying back the value of transferred assets. To do this, and to rationalise repayments on capital equipment, the contracting sides overdraft has been converted into a bank loan, with interest fixed at under 10%.

"Despite the problems of the last year our bank manager was positive, even optimistic, about the farm," said Mr Dalton. "He thinks we are much more fortunately placed than people who have invested heavily in fixed assets like buildings."

The partners newest venture is the composting of waste vegetables. They have agreed a three-year contract to remove waste from an organic packing station at Lampeter. The material is being mixed with farmyard manure and will eventually be spread on grassland. &#42

Suckler cows are throwing some excellent calves, says Margaret Dalton. Right: Preparations for the NSA open day were going well until the weather broke.

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 125ha (310-acre) less favoured area beef and sheep unit in mid-Wales farmed by Margaret Dalton and her son John, who also operates contracting services.

&#8226 Managed in association with an ADAS full-farm advisory package.

&#8226 Quota for 435 ewes. Scotch Mules are put to Rouge tups and the female progeny used to produce Texel sired prime lambs.

&#8226 Quota for 85 sucklers, Hereford x Friesians, Welsh Blacks and Longhorn x Welsh Blacks, used to breed Charolais cross stores.

&#8226 Small poultry enterprise.

&#8226 One full-time stockman, and variable number of full and part-time contracting staff.