Peter Chapman is trying hard to stay one step ahead of increasing input costs at Thornton Grange Farm.
Peter Chapman has so far escaped the worst of the “astronomical” increase in fertiliser prices, as he secured a good deal on 110t of ammonium nitrate through his local Farmway co-op last year.
The load was delivered in August for £190/t, with payments split into two stages in December 2007 and March 2008.
“The same quantity would cost me £280 for an April delivery, assuming the tonnage I need was available to buy,” he says.
“I believe the scarcity is due to some production being taken out when the price was cheaper, coupled with the extra demand following the removal of set-aside. I just wish I’d had the same foresight with my feed wheat crop, which I sold too early. I achieved just £113/t through the Farmway harvest pool.”
And Mr Chapman has just completed the first stage of a big investment programme which will allow him to expand his herd. The final total for the new Fullwood 24:24 milking parlour came to just over £100,000, some way over his original estimate of £80,000-£85,000.
But a handling system and integral footbath were added during the build, in a further bid to reduce the workload as the herd size increases.
The second stage of Mr Chapman’s investment has received a significant boost. Encouraged by the family’s investment in the new parlour and enthusiastic about the expansion plan, Mr Chapman’s landlord has kindly agreed to pay for everything except the cubicles in the new steel-framed cattle building. Having been optimistic about how long it would take to complete the parlour, Peter is reluctant to be quoted in print giving a finishing date for his second project.
Against a background of expensive capital investment and rising input costs, Mr Chapman is uncomfortably aware that, like many other producers, silage stocks are running low. Last year’s first cut was 15-20% down on the yield average, because of poor growing conditions. But well-timed cutting has meant quality is good.
As a replacement, the cows are being offered 10kg a head of fodder beet, which has produced some pleasing results. It is calculated on the basis that 1t of beet will replace 0.75t of silage. “The cows like it and I might use it next winter, when cow numbers will have reached 190 at housing.
“It’s hard to be completely accurate with the figures, but when you consider that growing more grass would mean taking land out of wheat, which is enjoying a boom at the moment, then I believe that fodder beet is probably no more expensive than silage.”
But while he is preparing for the future of his business, day-to-day management is still a priority. Bactoscan levels, which have traditionally been well within the 50,000 limit needed to reach the top band, now stand at 52,000. Swab testing by an Arla liaison officer has proved inconclusive.
“I originally suspected that the bulk tank would be the cause of the problem, but actually the testing highlighted a couple of minor points in the pipework which were not being thoroughly cleaned,” he says.
“This has been rectified, and I am keeping my fingers crossed that it will do the trick. But I would have felt more confident if the results had pointed to a more specific area within the system.”