Markets and weather effect outlook at AWSM Farming

At AWSM FARMs, Hutton Magna in  North Yorkshire kinder weather has allowed contracting income lost last autumn and winter to be recouped.

“We’ve been flat out since the end of March and have done the same acreage as usual on the contracting side, just a lot later than usual,” says business owner Adam Metcalfe.

Despite crops looking a lot better, he is leaving his own cropping budget at its reduced levels and is still nervous of the outcome, although he thinks crops will produce better than budgeted yields. Mr Metcalfe has accounted for a 24% drop in wheat yields, 14% for barley and 16% for oilseed rape compared with an average year.

Like many other growers, he has watched with increasing apprehension as grain prices have fallen over the past few weeks.

In a departure from his usual marketing practice, he has put 300t of barley into a pre-Christmas pool. This is grown on land under one of several contract farming agreements, with the pool used to reduce the impact of volatility.

The decision to sell 300t of feed barley to a local pig producer a few weeks ago at £158/t for September looks right. With prices falling, Mr Metcalfe wishes he had sold more but the experience of last year’s low yields and post-harvest price rises has put him and many others off committing the 2013 crop.

First-cut silage made by the contracting business has not yielded as well as expected and may be 20% down, he reckons. However, the farm’s own fodder beet looks as well as it has ever done.

The first lot of 61 finished lambs was sold through Darlington Farmers Auction Mart on 20 June with the best making more than £100 a head – the first time the business has ever achieved this.

However, with concentrate feeding at twice the normal rate, lambs need to return a decent price, says Mr Metcalfe. Lack of grass meant the ewes didn’t produce enough milk.

“We didn’t get the really bad weather that some people had but the lambs don’t seem to have done as well as we would have expected.”

Farm facts: AWSM FARMS, Hutton Magna, North Yorkshire

  • AWSM farms a total of 1,420ha (3,509 acres) of which 148ha (365 acres) is owned by Adam Metcalfe; remainder on six contract agreements and two Farm Business Tenancies on land up to 25 miles away.
  • Soil type ranges from light sandy loam to heavy clay, up to 600ft above sea level. Mainly combinable crops, but also sugar beet, fodder beet, potatoes and 316ha (781 acres) of grass.
  • All land is in ELS with some going into HLS
  • Staff numbers are currently 14 full-time, plus up to 12 part-time.
  • As well as the farming operations, a large contracting business provides all arable and other contract services, specialising in slurry injection, spreading of farm and other wastes, baling and spraying.
  • Farm runs 1,250 Mule ewes, bought as shearlings.
  • 1,300 pigs reared in straw yards on contract for local pig producer.

New apprentice

The farm is about to take on its first apprentice, helped by a £1,500 government grant towards the cost of this employment.

Eighteen-year-old Adam Close is the nephew of the farm’s shepherd Graham Wood and will spend four days a week at the farm starting in mid-July and one day a week at Askham Bryan College studying mixed farming.

“Adam has worked a lot with the sheep in his school holidays already and we plan to give him as much variety of experience as possible,” says Mr Metcalfe. “He was keen to get a full time job on a farm but I suggested he would be better to get a qualification while working.”

Like many other farm employers, Mr Metcalfe has yet to plan what his policy will be when farmworkers’ pay is no longer governed by an Agricultural Wages Order from 1 October.

Fertilizer market

Deciding when to go into the nitrogen fertiliser market is also difficult this season. Last year he bought UK manufactured ammonium nitrate in June at £295/t only to finance this purchase for months and see the price go nowhere.

This year he has quotes for AN between £290/t and £265/t and prices seem steady, so with cashflow facing pressure from low grain prices, he is reluctant to commit.

The fungicide regime this season will be very much on a field-by-field basis with the overall spend likely to be down. “We haven’t spent a lot and have taken our agronomist’s advice on which crops will be worth spending on and which will not.”


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Detailed costings keep things on track at AWSM farming

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