Subsidised benefits carry on as Objective 5b cash runs out
By Robert Davies
WELSH dairy producers will continue to benefit from subsidised consultancy and training through the Welsh Dairy Club even when Objective 5b cash runs out, believes its manager.
WDC manager Eirig Parry is confident that new European funding will be channelled to the club through the Welsh National Assembly.
If Mr Parry is right, the 500 producers on its database will continue to receive a subsidised costings service, free advice and access to a variety of training courses.
There will also be money to continue and expand the system of practical workshops on themes like nutrition planning, improving cow genetics, controlling cell counts and business risk management.
When National Milk Records launched WDC in 1999, some producers perceived it as elitist. There was a suggestion it was targeted at more progressive and larger producers and some wariness about units becoming involved with consultants.
"But we have worked hard to convince producers we are here to help them improve their management efficiency and profitability," says Mr Parry.
The harsh economics of dairying and wider acceptance of sharing technical and business information, helped the WDC dispel producers doubts.
Initial scepticism was surprising anyway, because from the outset it used Eurocash to offer a range of heavily subsidised services. Members pay an annual subscription ranging between £70 and £120, depending on herd size. In return they get a herd costings package monitored by the Kingshay Farming Trust and one free day with a consultant, or where preferred, two half-days with different advisers.
"Producers can obtain advice that would cost them £350 on the open market. Main advice topics are nutrition, finance and IT, but we accept the challenge of finding expert help on any issue. Almost 30 individual consultants provided focussed specialist advice to members last year."
When a member has used up free consultation time, WDC can negotiate a fee for additional advice. Mr Parry and his two field officers also link members with other sources of information. These include IGERs grassland technology transfer project, educational establishments and the National Assemblys new Farming Connect scheme which also offers free consultancy.
"Recently we have kept in touch mainly by telephone and through our newsletter, but when foot-and-mouth is over we will also restart farm visits, technical farm walks, seminars and workshops," says Mr Parry.
All seven herds run on Welsh college farms are members of the club, which also works closely with Lantra to provide training in skills such as foot trimming. It also consults the Milk Development Council and a range of organic farming bodies.
"About 10% of producers on the database are organic and these represent 80% of organic milk producers in Wales. They are keen to access technological developments, receive on-farm advice on specific problems and talk to other producers," according to Mr Parry.
Jeff Kedward, who completed organic conversion of his 120-cow herd in June at Hafod, Whitland, Carmarthenshire, sought help from the club with nutritional and breeding problems. Since then he has also taken an NMR Impelpro dairy costings course and his herdsman attended a WDC foot trimming course.
As management settles down, he hopes to be able to attend club farm walks and technical seminars. "I particularly appreciate the contact these offer with other producers who are facing the same economic and practical problems," says Mr Kedward.
Jan Rodenburg uses NMR records and the WDCs costings service to manage the 100-cow Holstein herd he runs at Rhyd-y-Ceir, Llandysul, Cardiganshire.
"These costings are important as they enable you to see what is going on at farm level and to detect any underlying trends. Analysing the data helps decision making and enables me to plan ahead," he explains.
Using recorded data, Mr Rodenburg spotted a fall in rolling conception rate to 50% early. This led to diagnosis of BVD virus, vaccination and a return to a 75% rate in his herd.
He is using a free NMR distance learning package to improve his computer recording skills and plans to attend a WDC workshop as part of a desire to move away from paper records.
"It is important to keep learning. Being a member of WDC provides opportunities to learn and meet like-minded producers." *
WELSH DAIRY CLUB
New funding expected.
Help with training.
Nutrition is just one of many advice topics available through the Welsh Dairy Club, says Eirig Parry.
WELSH DAIRY CLUB
• New funding expected.
• Subsidised consultancy.
• Help with training.