Farmer Focus: Time to keep heads down as milk markets worsen

The old adage of maize being “knee-high by 4 July” isn’t very true this year. It is more like “ankle-high on 4 July”. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. A very cold and wet May followed by some dry weather has stunted the growth of our crop.

We have successfully grown forage maize on the farm since 1991, but this is the first year we have had to redrill some of it. Of course the field in question had to be beside the main road, but thankfully the new crop was quickly out of the ground and has nearly caught up with the earlier-sown fields.

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To make up the shortfall in forage, it looks as if we will be forced to cut more of our winter wheat for wholecrop to provide an alternative high-starch forage for the milking herd.

We have started feeding this year’s first cut. Due to the lack of fibre in it, we have had to feed 0.5kg/head of straw to slow the rate of passage down. Second-cut silage was taken in mid-June and although not very heavy, it was of excellent quality and quite dry, so it should help to balance up some of our wetter first-cut silage.

Just when we thought milk prices couldn’t get any worse, along comes the news that Fonterra’s latest Global Dairy Trade auction was down another 5.9%. This is worrying. With no surplus cash left to invest back into our businesses, it’s a case of keeping our heads above the water at the minute.

With such low prices it certainly doesn’t make getting out of bed any easier in the mornings. With increasing volatility in world markets, it is a sad state of affairs that we have to patiently wait for some misfortune or disaster in another part of the world to help rectify the situation. Out of all this doom and gloom, I can only come up with one positive – at least when we hit rock bottom, the only way is up.

Thomas Steele milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was 2012 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year.