Court tells MAFFto waive £47,000 repayment

6 August 1999

Harvest results from good to disappointing

Combining is well under way

at Conyboro, but dairy

management is also

occupying the mind.

Suzie Horne reports

HARVEST results at Conyboro Farms this year are varied, with rape ranging from a disappointing 1.73t/ha (0.7t/acre) for Pronto, to 2.96t/ha (1.2t/acre) for Contact.

Although both were drilled on the same day, the Pronto should have gone in earlier, but seed supplies were delayed. While the Contact seemed to establish and get away quickly, the Pronto struggled, comments manager Duncan Rawson.

Arable man Paul Wren squeezed in a weeks holiday last week, but came back to work on the first day of it to finish combining peas, which it is estimated have averaged 3.7-3.95t/ha (1.5-1.6t/acre).

"There were lots of pods, but only four or five peas in each one," says Mr Rawson. Late germinating wild oats were a problem across parts of the crop.

Combining wheats began at the better end of the farm at the end of last week, with the first three fields to be cut yielding 7.2t, 10.5t and 9.4t/ha (2.9t, 4.23t and 3.8t/acre) respectively. All three were Abbot and these yields have made Mr Rawson think seriously about dropping Rialto next year.

"I dont think the Rialto will come anywhere near Abbot," he says. Unusually, the whole of the wheat crop seems to be fit at once. "We have budgeted for 3t/acre, and I knew we would do better than that. It would be good if we could get an overall average of 3.5t/acre."

It is hoped that linseed combining will be started slightly earlier than usual, although this will depend on progress in other crops.

As much farm-saved seed as possible will be used in the coming season. Cropping plans include the introduction of oats while rape is being dropped. Two-thirds of the 150ha (370 acres) of wheat will be milling varieties. Peas and beans will be grown again, but the set-aside will not be cropped.

"Industrial crops are OK if everything goes to plan, when you might be £20/acre better off. But one unexpected spray and your profit can be gone." It will also be 28ha (70 acres) less to cope with, a welcome easing of the arable workload given the bigger area of wheat this year.

No linseed is planned, but some seed from the current crop of Norlin will be kept on farm as an insurance against poor drilling conditions for wheat.

This years industrial rape has already left the farm, and because of the low prices, Mr Rawson has taken out a £3/t option on it through Cargill in the hope that values will rise between now and May.

In the dairy the preoccupation, as on most other units, is how to improve the financial outlook, with the MMC report apparently opening up the prospect of further price cuts.

"Weve got to be cutting labour costs. Were producing pretty efficient milk here, with good levels of milk from forage, so we must look at other costs," says Mr Rawson.

"Weve got to improve the margin with the least detrimental effect. Were shifting maize around this year and putting it on the best land. The aim is to drill two weeks earlier, but you need the better land to be able to do that."

Mr Rawson has also decided to switch some grass back into arable production. "Its 12 acres of grass we wont have but we can always take it for whole crop silage if we need it," he explains.

He will also sow Italian ryegrass before maize on 8.9ha (22 acres) to try and get an early cut, and will be doing a direct grass to grass reseed on 6.9ha (17 acres).

A third cut of silage was taken on the Italian ryegrass, yielding an estimated 120t off 11.7ha (29 acres). Depending on how it recovers, he may go for a fourth cut.

With land being one of the main limiting factors to dairy expansion at present, the focus is on improving yields rather than increasing cow numbers. Three times a day milking is one option.

A further 50,000litres of quota has been leased in at 5.5p/litre, leaving another 120,000litres to go and the price is moving in the right direction.

The high yielders have had their high-energy density blend buffer feed upped by 1kg a head a day in the past week to 3.5kg/head as an interim measure after blood tests revealed an energy deficiency. Dry cow feeding is also being altered to counter this problem.

Under the Conyboro contract agreement, the farming account, or number 2 account, has to invest £15,000 in improvements a year. While the present financial pressure means this is an extra burden, it also imposes a discipline which should bring rewards in higher margins in the medium term.

With this in mind, automatic scrapers are being considered to reduce labour costs. It would mean dairy staff being able to do all the feeding once the new building work is complete.

Court tells MAFFto waive £47,000 repayment

AN East Anglian grower is celebrating a successful legal challenge which saw MAFF reduce a demand for a £47,000 repayment of area aid to just £11.

The original demand for repayment of the whole of the farms area aid came after it emerged that the grower had retained 155kg (3cwt) of a 38t crop of industrial rape for seed.

Under the rules covering industrial cropping on set-aside, the whole of the industrial crop grown under the contract for non-food use must be delivered to the processor.

First advice from the growers solicitor was that he was liable to make the repayment, plus interest, but the grower took a second opinion from Northampton based Hewitson, Becke + Shaw.

"We researched the European Commission regulations in depth and found that whenever they spoke of penalties, the doctrine of proportionality was also mentioned – in other words, the punishment should fit the crime," says James Arnold, agriculture consultant with HB+S.

The firm obtained leave from the High Court for a judicial review of MAFFs decision and after this, and a ruling from Brussels, MAFF backed down. It reduced the penalty to reflect the aid payments represented by the amount of seed held back as a proportion of the 38t crop.

After the decision, dispute resolution partner at HB+S, Dominic Hopkins has already been contacted by other farmers. But he warns that this case was successful on its facts and not every case will justify court action. &#42

&#8226 Conyboro Farms, in East Sussex, a 405ha (1002-acre) arable and dairy unit, farmed on five year contract by Sentry Farming.

&#8226 Land is mainly weald clay with a small strip of greensand.

&#8226 Arable crops -all first wheats this season, also linseed, winter beans, peas.

&#8226 230-cow dairy, yielding 7200 litres a cow in year to March 1999.

&#8226 Calving mainly June to September. Total dairy forage area of 122ha (302 acres).

&#8226 Five full-time staff.

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