25 July 1997

Suckler review on hold in light of CAP reforms

The timing of calf sales is under the spotlight, even though a more radical shake-up of the beef enterprise has been put on hold.Robert Davies reports

REVIEWING the suckler enterprise at Gelli Garneddau is being delayed until the implications of the CAP reform package, Agenda 2000, are clearer.

"So many variables influence the profitability of the sucklers," says ADAS consultant Margaret Griffiths. "It is a case of writing down current costings, looking at what we know about short and medium-term prospects, and asking what further reform of the CAP will mean for quality beef producers.

"It is very unlikely the cows will be sold – they are important for balance grazing and there are few other options. But the higher cost of purchased feed in west Wales means we need to look again at when calves are sold."

An improved price was realised for the three steer stores with blue CID cards recently sold through Tregaron Market. One that weighed 480kg made £552, and two weighing 420kg sold for £490 a head.

"This is still less than before Mar 1996, but the improvement is very welcome," says Margaret Dalton. "However, we are facing lower cull cow prices and rising production costs. Perhaps overall prospects for the beef enterprise are a little less grim, but we still need to ask some serious questions about the herd."

The analysis is taking place with the memory of several weeks of practical husbandry problems still fresh. The Daltons only full-time employee is ill, and there has been an above-average number of calving problems.

One cow required a caesarian section, but cow and calf are doing well. Two cows also developed milk fever. Fortunately the giant Charolais x Welsh Black calf born six weeks ago has overcome the stress of a very protracted delivery and is not, as suspected, brain-damaged.

The Daltons are still trying to sort out an error on a beef special premium claim for cattle sold earlier in the year. The date recorded on the form was the day the deal was struck, which was before the end of the retention period, and not the date the cattle left the farm, which was after.

The rejected claim has not been reinstated, despite the fact that the date is correct in the stock movements book, and on the invoice from the transport company.

Ewes and lambs are continuing to make use of plentiful grass supplies. A total of 50 lambs have been sold and, with 75% qualifying for Farm Assured Welsh Livestocks Waitrose premium paying contract, prices averaged £48 a head.

A 33kg Beltex x Rouge x Scottish Black Face lamb was pulled out of last weeks consignment to be entered in this weeks Royal Welsh Show carcasses classes, at which Mrs Dalton took a second prize in 1996.

Shearing was completed in four-and-a-half hours at a cost of £220, or 45p a head. The serious foot rot problem that affected both ewes and lambs last season is being kept in check by regular trimming and frequent use of the new footbath.

Managing the flock has been made harder by the disappearance of Mrs Daltons four-year-old border collie three weeks ago, a loss that upset the whole family.

Meanwhile, some 24.25ha (55 acres) of first cut silage land, that was dressed with three bags of K-Nitro after harvest, is almost ready for cutting again. Ensiling it will be more difficult following an electrical fire that destroyed the farms JCB Loadall, which is normally used for buckraking.

"Because we believed that the risk of writing-off a machine like this was very low, it was under-insured, so we have a problem finding money to replace what is a very important piece of tackle," John Dalton admits.

A slight easing of pressure on the sewage sludge injection contract with Welsh Water allowed John to make silage for several neighbours. Income from 42 hours of work done over two days will be welcomed by the partners new bank manager, whom they are yet to meet.

John has also managed to complete spraying 20ha (50 acres) of dock-infested pasture. This cost £28.80/ha (£11.66/acre), but a second application will be necessary.

He and his mother are worried about long- term EU plans to shift support away from food production to direct payments and agri-environment schemes. They believe forward budgeting will be much more difficult, and that many family farms could go out of business. In the shorter term the concern is disposing of cull cows before OTMS compensation is cut.

"The reduction makes me very angry because we have no option but to sell cows this way," Mrs Dalton says. "I am also furious about illegal beef shipments that might further delay the lifting of the export ban. I believe farmers are being penalised because of events beyond their control, and our farming unions are not doing enough to put our case."

Margaret and John Dalton check the progress of second cut silage.

John Dalton (right) loads up a cull cow for slaughter before OTMS rates are cut from 64.9p/kg to just 57.7p/kg, due to take effect from Aug 4.

FARMFACTS

&#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.