Battlers keep up the fight:Management Matters

Battlers kep up the fight by John Burns

DAVID ROSSITER’S lowest point was the discovery of TB in his dairy herd in January 2003. Apart from a brief clear spell earlier this year, his cattle have been under movement restrictions ever since.

The most recent tests three weeks ago resulted in another four reactors being taken for slaughter. Mr Rossiter is particularly concerned about this apparent breakdown because the reactors included a steer that had never been outside. Waiting for the post-mortem results will be nerve racking.

But with typical resilience he gets on with life, having adjusted his policy to allow for the possibility of ongoing restrictions. He now breeds and rears only enough purebred heifers to replace 25% of the herd each year.

The other cows go to beef bulls to produce calves which can be reared but sold at any age even when the herd is under restriction.

Milk Link’s decision to cut its October milk price by 0.5p/litre could have just added yet more problems. But having spent the past 18 months complaining bitterly about poor milk prices, though doing little about it other than try to cut costs, Mr Rossiter has decided this was a cut too far.

This time he and his colleagues in the co-op have decided to stand and fight. He is adamant that the price cut will have to be withdrawn. “We are not accepting the explanations given to us for losing 0.5p/litre from our milk cheques.

“Their arguments will have to be more realistic and truthful in the sense of giving the complete picture. We feel the Milk Link bosses see us as a bunch of country bumpkins. We are not. We are businessmen in our own right.

“We also feel their perception of our high quality product is not high enough to allow them to sell it well enough. There is no justification for this price cut. Our product is not worth less in the market-place.

” The price cut is particularly galling given milk quality has improved and costs cut. Herd costings for August show the milk has gone from 3.72% fat and 3.14% protein last year to 3.84% and 3.21%, respectively, this year.

Concentrate use has been cut from 0.36kg/litre to 0.3 kg/litre. But because Mr Rossiter’s average milk price has dropped from 18.81p/litre to 16.54p/litre the margin over concentrate is down from 13.19p/litre to 11.28p/litre.

 Undoubtedly, his high point was the summer of 2003 when his Poll Dorsets swept all before them and his dream of combining top performance with show quality was realised. He achieved the “grand slam” of breed champion at all the major shows, trebled the breed sale record for a ram lamb, and topped the Centurion Poll Dorset Sire Reference Scheme index.

And his Royal Show champion ewe, which some considered too fat to get in-lamb, confounded the critics by producing triplets.

Sheep are considered to have a good future at Burton Farm after decoupling of support payments from production. Some expansion has already been started with an extra 30 Suffolk ewes and more Poll Dorset ewe lambs kept.

In the past, some of the arable cropping at Burton Farm has been driven by the need to maximise the IACS cheque. But after decoupling it will be confined to what the livestock need, which includes bedding straw as well as grain and protein. Although there is much talk of grain at £60/t – cheaper than he can grow it – Mr Rossiter does not believe it will be available at anywhere near that price after decoupling.

Since July 2002, the area farmed by Mr Rossiter has risen from 344ha (850 acres) to 410ha (1013 acres) and he hopes that scale and volume will help him survive periods of what may prove to be volatile prices.

 Anne Rossiter’s holiday and catering business has also grown over the 27 months, mainly through the restaurant and its potential for year-round trade. Yet it has been the restaurant which has given her the biggest headaches during this period.

Despite the local authority being happy to squeeze business rates from it, implying that all was correct in planning terms, a trouble-making recent arrival in the village stirred the planning department into demanding a number of retrospective planning applications, including the 20-year-old farm B&B sign.

Mrs Rossiter”s “low” was the nail-biting wait outside the committee room while her future was decided by the planning committee. But the protracted negotiations with planners and upgrading a farm lane to provide a new access road for visitors and minimise traffic through the village, meant the necessary planning approvals were given, subject to conditions including noise monitoring.

But there have been more pleasant moments, including the completion of the access lane and big refurbishments in the house, restaurant and associated facilities.

The future of her business, she feels, depends on red tape. “It’s getting worse. The danger is if it takes over completely it will finish everybody.”