Despite the rain Caroline Stocks still finds plenty happening at our Management Matters farm in Norfolk
It’s all systems go at Godwick Hall as Robert Garner rushes to build his new turkey shed, combine and drill his crops and finish redecorating the farmhouse in time for his wife Charlotte to give birth to their first child in October.
“We got planning permission for the shed on 27 June and we started work straight away,” Robert says. “We have the steel structure up and we should be able to start sheeting it in the next week because we need to get the turkeys into it.”
The new shed, a second-hand industrial-spec building from Milton Keynes, cost £12,000.
“We had to wait for prior notification which means we can only put up 5000sq ft in the first year, which makes the shed 75ft x 60ft.
“But the plan is to put the rest of it up next year, making it 135ft x 60ft. This year we will place 1300 turkeys, but at full capacity we could fit in 2500.
“It’s been a hassle putting it up, not as easy as a new building, but it should be finished in another couple of weeks. Luckily the wet weather hasn’t held the builders up too much.”
While the rain hasn’t affected the farm as much as others across the country, the wet weather has hampered Robert’s crops.
“I had a go at combining a field of rape but the moisture was 17% and it wasn’t quite fit. It needs another three or four days, but we aren’t getting the sun. We have been lucky we have missed some of the larger storms.”
Despite this, Robert says he is worried about his crop of Solstice milling wheat which he sells to Warburton’s on a contract.
“In June it looked like the best bit of wheat I’d ever grown, but it’s been hit hard by the weather. It’s a great shame.”
Wheat price strengthens
However, with strengthening feed wheat prices, even if the crop does go as feed it wouldn’t be too devastating, he says.
“I sold 400t of feed wheat in November for £86-87/t which wasn’t so clever, but on the back of that I took out an option to cover myself.
“I took out a call option at £107/t on 400t on March 2008 wheat that cost a £6.80/t premium. I sold that option yesterday at £132/t which, less the premium, has given me a profit of £18.20/t. I’m very pleased with that.”
There is still another 500t remaining to be sold, which Robert says he would have sold if the weather had been more settled.
“With it being so wet, I don’t know what yield I will get,” he says. “With yields being off I expect to get 0.5t/acre down on the usual, 3.5t/acre will be a good yield.”
“It seems like for the last three or four years we have been battling with the weather. I have never known a year of such extremes.”
Robert says he has about 60 acres of Einstein second wheat that has done better than expected, but he is very disappointed with the prospect for spring bean yields.
“We have decided we are going into winter beans instead,” he says.
“The land’s going to plough terribly – that’s the next worry. Our strategy is to plough early and get the whole farm drilled by mid-October, hopefully before the baby arrives. Management wise it will give us more time in spring as we will just have the fertiliser and spraying to do.”
Meanwhile, father John will have sold the remaining 50 lambs from his 400 half-bred Suffolk/Blue Leicester spring lambs by the end of this week.
“The lambs have done well this year because I had a guaranteed price of £3/kg,” he says.
The local shop he supplies has haggled down the price for the remaining lambs to £2.70, but with prices averaging £2.63 last week, John is still happy.
“It will be a different ball game next year though,” he says. “We will need about £3.50/kg with the way the way cereal and feed prices are going up.”
John says he may increase his flock size next year, as he is set to fence off 15 acres of Higher Level Scheme grassland for permanent pasture that could cope with “a few extra ewes”.
Rising costs have meant John has decided not to AI his herd of pedigree Suffolks this year.
“The additional costs of AI and paying for vets have got too much, so I have decided to buy a ram instead. I will sponge the ewes in two batches of 25 – I sponged the first batch last Monday and will do the next one a week later.”
John says, while it will take longer to serve the ewes, it will save him a considerable amount of money, as well as improve conception rates.
“Up until 2006 I was averaging 70% which was acceptable, but in 2007 I averaged 50%,” he says.
“It’s a big gamble but in the long term it will be cheaper. We can carry on with the Sire Reference Scheme for the moment because we have such a long history with it, but I don’t know how long that will last.”