Extensification diverts attention from market
Extensification is proving a
challenge for the Scottish
producer involved in our
Making Money Out of Beef
series, but better prices are
welcome. Emma Penny
reports on our final visit
MANAGING stocking rates for extensification claims is proving a challenge for Fife beef producer Sandy Henderson.
As manager on the 546ha (1350 acre) Mountquhanie Estate, Cupar, he is responsible for juggling stocking rates of the 300-cow spring and autumn calving herds and their offspring.
"We are claiming extensification premium, but will never be able to have a low enough stocking rate to claim super extensification. We are close to the upper extensification limit, though, and have to work with it.
"We are sailing close to the wind after an early spring calving, in that September is likely to be our worst month when spring calves become six months old and just before autumn-born weaned calves are sold. We should manage to fall within limits averaged over the year, and PDing cows by scanning at three weeks allows us to remove cull cows promptly. But it can be a nerve-racking business, especially with the six lottery dates."
While extensification is calculated on stocking rates on six dates throughout the year, the government should have opted for an average over 365 days, believes MLC beef analyst Duncan Sinclair.
"This would be more flexible, less troublesome and less worrying for producers, and it would be a fairer system."
While he accepts producers will have to comply with the six-date ruling for this years claims, he says it is possible for agricultural departments to move to a 365-day scheme next year, and he is urging them to do that.
"The six-date scheme is complicated; producers have to know the stocking density on their farm at 11.59pm on the night of the chosen date. This means cattle which have moved on to or off farm during the day can affect the stocking rate."
Mr Henderson believes the current system is complicated, and it would be easier to calculate stocking density over 365 days. "We are lucky in that we have a computer to calculate stocking rates and we can keep a rolling tally, so we know where we are at any time. It would be easier to have extensification calculated over the entire year."
But he admits that meeting extensification limits is having an impact on marketing on his farm and others.
"Claiming extensification is limiting our ability to finish stock. We are also wondering whether to do away with our autumn calving herd to avoid being over limits in September, but there is already an excess of spring calving herds. Other producers are finding they cant finish as many suckled calves."
Mr Sinclair agrees, believing that extensification is diverting farmers from producing for the market. "But the cost implications on extensification claims of finishing stock may change when the slaughter premium rises. Then it may be better to stop claiming extensification and finish more cattle, claiming slaughter premium."
But Mr Hendersons attempt at finishing homebred cattle – 33 heifers, the last of which was sold on Feb 2 – proved tricky.
"They were second draw calves which were not going to fetch top prices so we decided to finish them. But we found we had problems getting them to the minimum carcass weight of 260kg. At that weight, most finished at R4H for conformation and fatness, so we were penalised for that anyway."
Better prices for suckled calves means Mr Henderson has less need to finish cattle this winter. "Prices have lifted enough for us to be able to sell, finishing them would affect our extensification stocking rate."
Recently weaned autumn-born calves have also performed well this year, which will help sales. Charolais cross steers averaged 401kg at weaning, while heifers averaged 376kg. "That is far better than they have ever done before."
Agriculture departments should move to a 365-day calendar for calculating extensification, says Duncan Sinclair (inset).
• Six-date system tricky.
• Computer essential.
• Affects marketing.
Claiming extensification is limiting the ability to finish stock, says Sandy Henderson.