Farmer Focus: Hope tonic plantain will be saving grace

Things are finally starting to warm up with a little rain, which is welcome following a slow start to the season.

We have managed to spread digestate waste on most of the productive grassland. This has more than doubled dry matter yields and grass growth rates, which has meant within the space of only a few weeks we have gone from not having enough grazing on the home farm to being understocked – not a bad position to be in really.

We are busy increasing stock numbers, with some ewe lambs home-bred and most bought in each year to help keep the flock age low and stagger the age of ewes.

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The high cull price is also helping me to be more ruthless when it comes to getting rid of problem ewes. This will also cut the workload and make things run more smoothly.

Dry weather has been an issue in previous summers, stalling grass and lamb growth. As a result we have planted 5ha of tonic plantain with white clover to help finish lambs and also grow on bought-in ewe lambs before tupping.

The deep taproots are good at finding moisture during drier months and the crop will make great use of the nitrogen in the digestate waste, as well as being a natural wormer. I am looking forward to seeing how it works for us.

The calf-rearing enterprise is going well. We recently got a guided tour of the new ABP abattoir, which gave a great insight into the other end of the process. It also left me feeling enthusiastic and confident that working with larger companies was the right decision, especially during volatile times.

Finally, with the help of the accountant and land agent, we got the BPS applications and stewardship forms sent in on time. I don’t think I am alone in thinking what a shambles the whole process has been.

In my view the system is far too complicated and those who need and deserve support payments are often left short, while those who can do without are given superfluous amounts of money for doing very little.

Jim Beary contract-rears 900 calves a year and has a growing flock of Aberfield-cross New Zealand Romney’s on a county council farm. He also runs a contract gritting enterprise in the winter.