Higher milk prices give reason for more optimism at Thornton Grange Farm

Morrisons’ recent decision to fall in line with other major retailers and raise milk payments (FW, 30 May) was welcome news for Mr Chapman. This added an extra 0.2p/litre, which combined with an additional 0.5p/litre from Arla, brings the farm’s current milk value to almost 27p/litre. However, he feels there is still room for improvement.

“The June increase was welcome, but milk prices should be achieving a consistent rolling average of 30p/litre. This is the sort of figure we need to help us pay off previous investments, and ensure that we are in a position to fund future development.”

The planned move from 140 cows to 180 by the end of this year has affected all aspects of the business, he continues. The £20,000 dry cow housing and “hospital” quarters is complete, and Mr Chapman is now under pressure to review slurry storage capacity to cope with the expanding herd.


Apart from a small area of about 8ha (20 acres), the entire farm falls within a Nitrate Vulnerable Zone. So far, it has been a relatively simple to comply with NVZ regulations, but proposals for a three-month winter “no spreading” period, and 22-week storage capacity will complicate matters, he says.

The present slurry storage facility, an above-ground metal tank purchased in 1976, can only hold three weeks’ worth of slurry, and is coming to the end of its useful life. By next summer, Mr Chapman hopes to have installed a clay-lined lagoon, which he estimates will cost about £75,000. Designed to hold 3000cu m of slurry, it will cover approximately 35sq m and be 3m deep.

He considered copying the Dutch idea of using an Alligator Winbag – a coated polyester fabric bag with entry and exit points for liquid storage – but was put off by the price, which is about four times more than a traditional lagoon.

Slurry storage

“Apparently, the new slurry storage requirement was supposed to come into force in 2007, but I have been told not to expect an announcement until the end of the year. We are trying to set long-term goals for our business, and we really need plenty of warning about how and when this ruling will apply. This kind of uncertainty makes it very difficult to make financial plans for the future.

“I understand that there will be no grant aid for slurry storage this time, although we will struggle to find the money unless some help is available. I’m confused about the requirement for 22 weeks, when the three-month no spreading period only adds up to 12 weeks. I can see that an additional couple of weeks might be useful, if we get very high rainfall over the winter, but 22 weeks seems excessive to me.”

Pleasing results

On the arable side, Mr Chapman is pleased with results achieved by his contractor, who used a Vaderstad Rapid drill to sow a crop of Einstein, following maize and wheat stubble. Peter drilled a similar acreage using the farm’s own combination drill, and both crops were ploughed and power-harrowed before drilling, but there has been a significant difference in establishment between the two areas.

“I expected the two crops to look much the same, but the crop I drilled is looking much thinner. The only difference was a time lag of a couple of weeks, with the Vaderstad going on a few weeks later. It is hard to make a definite judgement, but I will be looking to sow most of my cereals with the Vaderstad next year,” he says.

Milk production figures (12 month rolling)

Margin over purchased feed – £1292 a cow

Feed cost/litre – 6p

Feed kg/litre – 0.302

Milk value/cow – £1740

Rolling average milk price – 23.2p/litre