Brainstorm brings savings
The entire Whelan team is
putting forward ideas to
offset falling farm profits.
Suzie Horne reports
THE PROSPECT of a further £72,000 drop in income this year prompted manager Robert Kilby to hold a Whelan Farms staff meeting recently to find ways to recover the expected deficit without cost.
The team effort produced a forward plan which addresses both costs and output in all three main enterprises. "We sat down for a couple of hours and talked about the problems in farming and discussed ways of improving income," says Mr Kilby.
The arable enterprise will save £4000-5000 by managing without casual labour at harvest this year. The livestock enterprises will haul all their own straw and lend a body to grain cart when necessary.
While there will be savings from lower chemical and fertiliser costs, there will also be a renewed effort to ensure all inputs are justified and used at the optimum time.
Contracting is already bringing in extra income and it is planned to earn an extra £10,000 this way. "That is what we plan to do, but we have to get Whelan looking right first," says Mr Kilby.
With only four dry days in April, timeliness has taken on added importance. Arable work is up to date, but only because every chance to do a job has been taken. Andy Crow was out contract spraying at 5am last week because the wind was expected to pick up later in the morning – which it did.
Linola has replaced linseed in the cropping plan, on a contract linked to the price of oilseed rape at the time the crop is moved.
The dairy unit has set itself a target of a £56,000 income recovery by increasing cow numbers to 200, with 60 heifers coming into the herd this year. A carryover of 200t of grass silage and a heavier crop this year should allow milk from forage to be increased, saving £3000-5000 on brewers grains.
Increased milk yields are planned from further realisation of genetic potential and attention to detail in the milking routine, less mastitis and better hygiene. This should help achieve one of the main aims – to ensure the herd is always in the top band for milk payments.
All of these measures together have the potential to take net margin a litre to 4.26p, compared with the actual net margin of 0.8p/litre in the year to Mar 31, 1998. These figures are after quota costs and landlords first charge, so include a rent equivalent.
After a last minute surge in milk production at the end of the milk year, there were fears that the farm might exceed the 1% threshold above which Unigate was to withhold milk payments. However, the final figure was just 68 litres within the 1%, from a total of 1.31m litres of quota.
Cows went out during the day in the third week of April, and yields are holding up well, says Mr Kilby. Some poaching is being tolerated on the lush swards to avoid grass going to waste.
The tentative May 1 start date for silaging has been postponed for a few days because the land is so wet. The hope is that new seeds ground will have been mowed by the end of this week. "It might need an extra 12 hours wilt," said Mr Kilby, who was hoping for a dry sunny start to May to boost sugars.
Sheep targets to compensate for an expected £10,000 drop in income include reducing culls, lamb losses and casual labour costs.
Lambing finished uneventfully, but the cold and rain claimed around 30 more lambs after turnout. "The lambs havent grown as well as normal, because theyve been using all their energy keeping warm and dry," says Mr Kilby. "Weve got 1200 lambs on creep now but they havent really taken to it yet because theres plenty of grass."
All enterprises expect to reduce machinery repairs by better care and servicing. "All the staff know what direction were heading in and we are going to have a follow up meeting every three months," says Mr Kilby. *
No harvest labour, reduced machinery costs and care with inputs will curb arable losses at Whelan Farms. Dairy and sheep enterprises are also being scrutinised in a series of team meetings to spawn cost-cutting ideas.
• A 649ha (1604-acre) arable, dairy and sheep holding owned by John Whelan and farmed by Sentry Farming.
• Chalky soil with some clay over chalk in Kent.
• 356ha (880 acres) mixed combinable crops, including non-rotational set-aside.
• Dairy herd currently stands at 195 cows averaging just over 6500 litres.
• 1300 ewes lambing mid-March, mainly Mules, some Scotch half-breds.
• Six full-time staff.