31 December 1999


Andrew Groom

Andrew Groom has managed

Purlieus Farm near Swindon,

Wilts, on contract since

1991. The 138ha (342-acre)

farm, owned by P&A

Crocker, is stocked with

200 dairy cows with

replacements reared on

another 26ha (65-acres)

THE last months to the end of the year for us are a quieter, more reflective time. Most of the herd are entering the middle or latter half of lactation, and they have settled well into winter housing. This time last year we were just finishing new loose yards, and building work and wet weather made it hard for man and beast.

Maize silage is better than I had hoped for. Late cutting made me unsure of its quality but with an analysis of 38% dry matter, 11.7ME, D-value of 79 and starch of 37%, cows have responded extremely well.

Maize silage is mixed at a rate of 30% with Italian ryegrass and red clover silage which is 28%DM, 11.8ME, 14.6%CP and 69 D-value. We are also feeding a straights mix of soya, rape, screened gluten and sugar beet which has a moisture content of 13%, with 28% crude protein, 90%DM and costs £95/t.

Throughout summer, yields had been up and down with see-saw weather conditions. March/ April calvers have settled at a steady average of 18.5 litres/day, and milk quality is also constant now at 4.4% fat and 3.75% protein.

When we were producing milk at 3.6% fat and 2.9% protein seven years ago I would never of dreamt that Swiss breeding could make such a marked change.

I think if I were to join my children Harry, Hester and Heidi in making a present list for posting to the North Pole, one thing would be that a specialist cheese producer would move in down the road and look for a local supplier.

Luckily, our staff situation has resolved itself well. The New Zealand relief herdspersons with us have either moved on to see more of the country or moved back home to welcome in the spring. The damp weather and increasing tractor work probably scared them away.

Giles Poulter joined us as herdsman on relief, having been out of farming for a short time. He soon asked if he could stay full time, and hes fitted in so well we couldnt say no.

With replacement rates falling and yield rising, quota expansion seems the best way to meet the millennium, but recent hikes in leasing prices are frightening. This combined with the overfilling of our national quota will drive milk prices lower in spring. At this rate, are we just robbing each other to pay somebody elses percentage? &#42

Mike Allwood

Mike Allwood is owner-

occupier of 82ha (200-

acres) near Nantwich,

Cheshire. The 175-cow dairy

herd block calves during

May and June. Besides

converting to organic

production, he is also

planning to produce

unpasteurised cheese

WE have had a busy and exciting 1999. Two years ago we put together a plan to turn Burland Farm into a customer-focused business – please forgive the disgusting industry jargon.

What we are trying to do is create markets for our own specific products which in the long term will take us away from low commodity prices.

Phase one was to convert to organic status, a move which I still think is right not only in commercial but also in moral terms. Organic farming is not for everyone, as some farmers huffily remind me, and many of the standards seem to have been somewhat arbitrarily penned. Nevertheless, overall I am sure it is a move in the right direction which in due course will become the norm. Even GM giant Monsanto cannot resist consumer power, as the recent collapse in its share price shows.

The second year of our conversion has gone quickly, without any real problems. The biggest challenge lies ahead as we are now farming to organic veterinary rules, and I am yet to be convinced by homeopathy. I would love to believe, but I have not seen any properly conducted scientific trials in its support. The weight of our attack on disease must continue to be prevention – which is more easily said than done.

Phase two of the plan was to make something out of our organic milk in order to add value to it. A love of food and a long standing interest in cheese-making generated a more active role in the business for my wife Sandy, as in June we started to make our own specialist cheese at Ravens Oak Dairy.

Its been a long, hard slog involving rather too many disasters, but we now have a range of home-made cheeses made from cow, buffalo and goat milk and some medal certificates on the office wall from the British Cheese Awards.

Of phases three and four more in the coming months. We enter the New Year with a big overdraft but full of hope. I wish all farmers weekly readers a prosperous new Millennium. &#42

David Maughan

David Maughan farms with

his brother, Peter, on two

farms totalling 172ha (425

acres) in Co.Durham on the

Raby Estate. The 40ha (100

acres) of grass supports an

18-month Continental beef

system with purchased bulls

and a silage beef system

using Continental bull and

heifer calves

AS we take down our calendar to close what can only be described as a difficult year for farming we shall hang the new one in the hope of improved fortunes.

We will be sharing the opening hours of the new century with friends, so I can confidently predict that on 1.1.00 the computers may not be the only things that have crashed.

A year ago we were busy building a poultry house to accommodate our new enterprise, a free-range egg production unit for 6000 layers. It has been satisfying to see it established so well. Like others in the free range poultry industry we view with a concern the pressures to down price – a pressure that should be unnecessary given the balance that exists between supply and demand.

On the arable side of our business we surprisingly enjoyed a record winter wheat harvest. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of prices which are now way below anything we would have predicted three years ago, and this side of our business has to be under great strain to generate a worthwhile profit this coming season.

We market most of the grain through a local marketing pool at Grainco. This has been a move forward in our selling, although in a marketplace as flat as the current one there is not the bounce to obtain real selling advantage.

After over three years of gloom in our beef enterprise, 1999 output actually turned in a profit; not huge lest we get carried away. With 1999 bringing a lifting of the beef on the bone and export bans we can now look forward to further progress. Importantly the cattle we now hold for sale in 2000 carry the prospect of a worthwhile return, the decision to stick with calf rearing following BSE now seems sound, despite earlier doubts.

One of the roles I enjoy at present is that of President of Co Durham Young Farmers Clubs. We are planning to hold a major reunion of ex-members during 2000 and would be really pleased to hear from anyone with an interest in it. As a final paragraph for 1999, I wish everyone a share in much overdue prosperity, may a new century bring new opportunity. &#42

Giles Henry

Giles Henry rents 105ha

(260 acres) on a 10-year

lease and 114ha (280 acres)

of heather moorland near

Selkirk in the Scottish

Borders. Cropping is mainly

grass with 10ha (24 acres) of

spring barley. It is stocked

with 650 breeding ewes and

95 hoggs, 30 Luing cattle

with followers and finishers

AS 1999 comes to a close, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on the year past and also to look forward to the New Year which is fast approaching.

On the weather front, 1999 must have been as good as we have had for a number of years. Spring crops were sown in great conditions and harvested in good weather too. Grass grew well all year and to have fresh growth appearing in November was phenomenal. When the weather is on your side it makes the job a whole lot easier.

This year has really been one of consolidation at Oakwood Mill. We have tried to contain costs as well as trying to keep output up. This has been difficult the way prices are, especially for lambs.

What I think is showing through is that quality is required and will be paid for. Certainly, when you see the price differentiation on the top end of stock it points to us being able to provide what the customer requires.

Probably, like everyone else, we have been looking at all options available for survival, and because I am not as established as someone who has been farming for generations and has a sound base, every available source of income has to be followed up.

We are receiving cash for partaking in the local ESA scheme. I also have a part time job, which helps to keep our eldest daughter at university. By going down the organic route we will improve returns on all our outputs without there being too much of a reduction in the amount we produce.

When one hears of production costs and selling prices in other countries, it makes one wonder how our prices can ever return to those of a few years ago. The world is now such a small place that fresh product can be competitive in markets that 10 years ago it never could have reached.

For the year 2000 we can wish for a weakening of sterling and realisation by the government that the countryside needs farmers to maintain its fabric, though I am not holding my breath on either count. So heres to quality, a market for our produce, and the courage to keep moving forward. &#42

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