25 September 1998

Traumatic harvest ends but problems mount up

It has not been a good

month at Whelan Farms.

Harvest has been long and

drawn out, lambs are

finishing slowly and the dairy

has had an abortion problem.

Suzie Horne reports

AFTER a two-week wait, the final 14ha (35 acres) of wheat was cut last weekend. The late start – most wheat was not fit until Aug 20 – and poor weather has meant that three-quarters of the harvest has had to be dried, blowing the contingency fund set aside for this purpose.

"Its been the wettest harvest since Ive been here," says Robert Kilby, manager at Whelan for seven years. "We cut the first 150 acres at 15% and the next 350 at between 17 and 24%."

Beans were cut last weekend, yielding an estimated 3.58t/ha (1.45t/acre) and all but one field of linola will be cut this week.

Despite Mr Kilbys earlier caution, wheats have yielded an estimated average of 7.41t/ha (3t/acre), with the light land at 6.17t/ha (2.5t/acre). Reaper gave the best performance at 8.65t/ha (3.5t/acre). While bushel weights have been good across all varieties, the Charger lost its Hagberg.

Also, contrary to the plan in the last report, all but 100t of the wheat was sold when the ex-farm price hit £70/t in early September. A drop in the value of the £ and boats needing tonnage quickly caused the brief lift in prices.

"The £70/t price isnt exciting, but its only at £70 for November now, and whos to say what will happen?" says Mr Kilby.

The peas, which yielded a disappointing 3.46t/ha (1.4t/acre) have all been sold at an average £71/t ex-farm. Mr Kilby is holding on to oats, however, with prices rising from £58/t last month to £66 now.

While the seemingly constant rain through late August played havoc with combining, there has never been any lack of moisture for cultivations. All the rape was drilled by Aug 22 and looks well.

More than 20t of home-saved wheat seed was dressed with Sibutol on Sept 10. The seed was about £40/t cheaper than bought-in material, saving £7.41/ha (£3/acre). Overall it represented an £800 saving and, importantly, secured seed supplies in good time for drilling.

Consort was drilled on Sept 16, while Savannah will go in this week and Claire and Charger will wait until the first week of October.

Routine reseeding of grass leys followed the lagoon being emptied onto the 10ha (25 acres) of ground earmarked for this years reseed. It was then subsoiled twice before combination drilling a day later, and followed by flat rolling. This system has worked well in the past, giving early sheep grazing before silage making.

The condition of the sheep has improved since the change of wormer, but the results of the faeces tests for resistance have not yet come through.

There are 1700 lambs still to sell. The last lot of 80 averaged just £32 a head at 18.5kg. The gloomy outlook for lamb prices and the high cost of replacements (up to £70 a head) is a concern.

If the price is in the £50 range Mr Kilby will buy 200 Mules in the next three weeks. "If not, we will not cull so heavily, well expect a lower lambing percentage and well rear the lambs more extensively next year," he says.

The late harvest means just 10ha (25 acres) of the planned 40ha (100 acres) of stubble turnips have been sown, and it is now too late to do more.

The farms financial year end is at the end of this month, and the dairy looks like finishing the year at an average yield of 7600 litres, 400 litres above budget. But the celebrations are short-lived. Unigates super-levy threshold settled at 0.57%, and the farm produced 1% over quota, landing a £1500 bill. Milk prices also averaged 0.5p/litre under budget, wiping out the gain from extra yield.

Calving is going quite well, although optimism is guarded. The herd got off to a bad start, with 19 abortions in the past five weeks. These occurred at four to seven months and have been attributed to neospora, about which relatively little seems to be known.

"There may be a link with dogs, and it seems to be stress-related," says Mr Kilby. "It isnt treatable yet, but we are hoping the herd will build immunity to it."

Apart from the £1000 extra in vet bills so far and the estimated £500 cost of tests, he reckons that lost milk and cull values of affected cows will cost the herd £15,000-20,000 over the next year. Eight of the 19 affected animals have already been culled. &#42

FARM FACTS

&#8226 A 649ha (1604 acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.

&#8226 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.

&#8226 Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.

&#8226 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.

&#8226 Six full-time staff.