Yorkshire farm manager Duncan Branch praises the mixed farming system

Here I am, in my office on a glorious autumn afternoon, viewing the vast expanse of the Vale of York, and reflecting on events since August.

The day after my breeding ewe replacements arrived yet another bout of foot-and-mouth was announced, with all the catastrophic effects this has had on the livestock industry. That was followed by bluetongue disease arriving in the UK, with our farm the last to be included on the Northern Protection Zone boundary.

I have managed to source some dairy heifer replacements and managed to get them on farm. However, I am still short on my original requirement and having to pay an awful lot more money than I budgeted for last April. In fact, one of my main activities has been to review and revamp my whole farm budgets.

We are, at last, experiencing a lift in the milk price. If this continues as projected it could add up to £100,000 extra to this year’s milk receipts.

The wheat price has certainly exceeded what I originally forecast and is another welcome addition to the revised budget. The downside of the farming enterprises is a very reduced yield on our potatoes, although after the atrocious summer weather I should really view that as being the glass half full not half empty.

The potatoes were harvested and stored in excellent condition, but yielded about 25t/ha (10t/acre), not 40t/ha (16t/acre) as budgeted. Likewise, the maize is all clamped, but instead of conserving 2300t as expected, we have just 1500t.

I can still manage to feed the dairy cows, but losing 800t of maize silage has put a big question mark over the beef unit. It is already showing a gross margin deficit of £7000. I cannot afford to buy in feed and continue making a loss, so we will have to consider seriously its future management.

On a similar vein, we have decided not to invest in store lambs for winter finishing, due to the uncertainty of the finished lamb market. Instead we will let our winter keep and hopefully make a small contribution to the farm as opposed to possibly making a loss.

While discussing sheep, the tups were turned in to the ewes on 5 November for April lambing. This is three weeks later than normal, for no other reason than that Easter falls early next year, and without the date change the students would all be on Easter vacation at lambing and would miss this excellent student activity.

This year has highlighted the value of having a mixed farming system. Although it means we have higher machinery and labour costs, it does mean that where one enterprise has been down, other enterprises have been on a high.

The need for extremely tight budgetary control is evident and I am having to look at every cost and every income stream possible. Some hard decisions are having to be made to maintain our viability and prosperity.

On a happier note, the sun is shining, all the harvested crops are in store or sold, the land is dry and all the autumn drilling is done, with the early sown crops all germinated and looking very healthy. Here we go again.

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