5 April 2002

Trees no match for lambs when it comes to cash

Farm forestry has been

occupying some of Ian

Duncan Millars time in the

comparatively quiet period

before lambing. But, as

Allan Wright reports,

theres more money in

lambs than trees

FELLING a small area of woodland and hiring a mobile sawmill to use some of the timber on the farm was seen as the best way to maximise the return from the mix of softwood and hardwood trees planted 42 years ago by Ian Duncan Millars father.

The project at Tirinie restarted a few weeks ago after being halted by the foot-and-mouth restrictions last year.

"We have cleared the 1.5 acres and are getting ready to replant. The timber is all away, with some sawn, treated and back on the farm in the form of posts, stobs (stakes), and 7cu m of sawn rails and boards.

"The posts and stobs will be used to fence the area, which is ready for replanting. That will be with a mix of naturally reseeded hardwoods and young trees of Scots pine, silver and Douglas fir, and hawthorn and bushy plants like dog rose. The plantation carries on what my father started and will provide amenity woodland as well as cover for pheasants."

That is the positive side; the economics suggest to Mr Duncan Millar that, after grants, he will have to pay for the erection of the fence and part of the planting costs. "I am confident the timber will cover the cost of extraction and processing. The bottom line is that it is going to cost me a few hundred £s to replant."

Locally, the Breadalbane Initiative for Farm Forestry (BIFF) is attracting interest, though it is concentrating on new plantings to attract environmental grants with less emphasis on actively managing existing woodland.

But Mr Duncan Millar believes the scheme is threatened by cheap imports of timber to a processing factory in Perth that is financially supported by the local authority. "It really angers me to see local taxes used to fund the treatment of imported timber instead of encouraging local produce and initiatives," he says.

On the sheep front, the anticipated Easter market for light lambs did not materialise. Prices dropped, leaving Mr Duncan Millar with a lower-than-expected price for the 300 sold last week. Lambs weighing 15kg or less made £2/kg, while those at 16kg and above made £2.25.

"The Spanish have been selling to France, the French have realised they could drive down the price, and probably not enough light lambs were disposed of in the £10 cull scheme earlier in the year," he says.

"My analysis is that there is and will be a reasonable demand for the mainstream 16-20kg lambs. It is the light ones, of varying quality, that overhang the market and drag everything down."

A start to spring barley sowing was expected at the end of last week. It is all Decanter this time and the seed contract has been given up after two years of failing to match the standards.

"There is a malting market for both high and low nitrogen Decanter backed up by a strong local demand for feed barley. I will go for yield on the fields that have had kale, turnips, or dung and try for a top quality, low N sample on the others."

Hill ewes on the family hill farm at Wester Tullich are being fed a mix of whole barley and grass nuts, delivered by a snacker feeder.

"The grass gives palatability and extra protein and the ewes are now leaving very little for the birds. At £72/t for barley, it is an economical way to feed hill ewes and at under half a pound a day, it is within the organic farming tolerances."

Twin-bearing ewes have to be fed twice as much and that demands organic barley and lucerne flakes. "We are doing everything by the book on the organic front. We have had our inspection but have not received the results. I am confident we will have complied on everything apart from vaccines – which I will continue to use," says Mr Duncan Millar. &#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 are 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.