John Helliar

28 March 1997

John Helliar

John Helliar has a 130ha (320-acre) farm on the Longleat Estate, near Warminster, Wilts. He milks 180 cows, rears his own replacements and grows 45ha (110 acres) of maize, which comprises 70% of the winter ration. 1500 store lambs are put out on winter grass keep in October for sale as fat lambs in January/February.

HAVING more milking cows on the farm last summer as a direct result of the BSE crisis meant we produced more of our milk quota. However, we reduced cow numbers through the winter from 185 to 175. Consequently, there will be a lot of forage over – 250t of maize on top of 400t we usually feed in July and August. The 250t equates to 16 acres which should have gone to ground ear maize. On top of this, there is 200t of grass silage left, enough for nearly 20 cows.

The dilemma is what action do we take? If we try and sell we wont get much for it – nearly everyone has plenty. We could try and reduce inputs, for instance, fertiliser, for this seasons silage. I might do this later in the season but Im sure its right to maximise first cut silage. On the other hand if we do have a drought I will be very glad of the extra feed. So I have decided to sit tight and let the summer take its course – mentally it is better to have too much than not enough.

The first dressing of nitrogen was applied in the first week of March, a bit later than I was hoping for but the fields were just too wet. All grassland has had 70 units of nitrogen, except 60 acres where we have just spread 250,000gal of dirty water, which is equivalent to about 30-40 units of nitrate.

We have not applied phosphate on grassland for two years, so we decided to soil test every field on the farm and compare them with tests done in 1995. Three fields dropped one index from three to two, the rest were the same as last time. MAP 12% nitrogen 52% phosphate was spread at 1cwt/acre on fields with lower index.

The milk price is beginning to give me some concern. Looking at our dairy costings in Mar 1996, margin over concentrate stood at £1506. This increased to £1600 by September. However, in five months we have dropped £14/month on average. At present margin over concentrate stands at £1530. Out of a yield of 6800 litres, 4737 litres comes from forage. Our cost structure which will come under close scrutiny over the next few weeks.n

Theres too much maize and grass silage left on farm this spring, reckons John Helliar. But he thinks it might come in useful if theres another drought this summer.

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