31 August 2001

Timber is put to good use on home territory

Timber is the latest harvest

at Tirinie and Ian Duncan

Millar has had to work hard

at making it profitable.

Allan Wright reports

THERE were no trees at Tirinie when Ian Duncan Millars father bought the place more than 40 years ago. An early priority was to plant a shelterbelt for pheasant cover and it is that wood which has now been felled.

"The current economics of home-produced timber mean that the harvest would not have yielded enough to replant the wood. The prices quoted were £14/t for the thinner trees and £33/t for saw logs. Home markets undermined by cheap imports – its becoming a familiar story," says Mr Duncan Millar.

"It prompted me to make a list of the wood Id need on the farm over the next two or three years and then to price hiring a saw bench and having the sawn wood treated at a nearby sawmill. By doing that I will have a decent return from the timber.

"A good example is that a fencing post will cost me less than 50p compared with a buying price of £1.35. I will also have a two-year supply of wood for post-and-rail fences, sheep and cattle pens, feed troughs and so on."

The Tirinie wood will be replanted in the autumn with a mix of soft and hardwoods and will attract a restoration grant of about £300, although there will still be a net cost.

Bull beef returns are up on the year. The 33 sold have averaged £580, or £1.05/kg, compared with £557, or 96p/kg, for 32 in 2000. "Last year the margin was £38/head and costs have been very similar this season."

The first of the Tirinie lambs were down £3.50/head on the year at £31.18 apiece after marketing charges. They were sold through the co-op Highland Glen but Mr Duncan Millar did the delivery run to McIntosh Donald at Portlethen on the south side of Aberdeen. "It was a round trip of six hours including an hour at the abattoir. Diesel costs were £68, less than half the £3/head bill from a haulier."

Mr Duncan Millar says there is good and bad news from the lamb market. "The good news is that consumption is stronger than expected, particularly for the light lamb packs. But that is being achieved on price alone and the bad news is that returns from prime lamb are still depressed despite apparent supply shortages to meet the current promotions.

"There is no doubt that retailers are exploiting current farmer difficulties of perceived oversupply, and the need to tag and obtain movement licences. But it is understandable and it will be difficult to maintain consumption figures and get the price up at the same time."

Up the hill from Tirinie, plans to market organic Blackface lambs from Wester Tullich and Auchnafree are gathering pace. "The efforts to improve the general sward and clover content at Tullich have worked. We have a topper that goes behind the farm bike and the grass is looking well and should be capable of finishing some of the top Blackfaces and Texel cross lambs.

"The next 200 Blackfaces will go to organic grazing and rape I have secured in south Perthshire. So two-thirds of the Tullich crop will be sold as organic lamb for which the current premium is about £1/kg carcass weight."

The profit-sharing agreement with an organic arable farmer who uses clover as a break crop will see 275 Auchnafree Blackface lambs finish by mid-November and some further organic grazing has been secured near Perth. That, plus a supply of organic feed, could see more of the high hill crop finished in sheds at Auchnafree and the aim is to get at least two-thirds of the output sold as organic.

"There are inquiries for store organic lambs but the difficulty there is that the finishers would prefer cross lambs. But at least there are enquiries to follow up," says Mr Duncan Millar.

Finally, the Tirinie combine harvester was oiled and greased and ready to roll when we visited at the end of last week. Mr Duncan Millar is still apprehensive about his first crop of Chalice spring barley and the Decanter (on a seed contract) has a tousled look after recent wind and rain. Chariot, on the other hand, is pleasing the farmer.

But he is reserving final judgment until the grain is in the tank, and well have the Tirinie harvest report next time. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Farm staff of one, for tractor work.