Gold Cup Comment September 2015 : Dairy farms vital to local economy

In his first, and regular, column 2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset reports on the latest developments at Rushywood Farm and highlights how valuable dairy farms are the the local economy.

It seems that 2015 will be a memorable year for us. Starting with our win in the NMR/RABDF Gold Cup this year I’d like to thank firstly my staff who get the job done on a daily basis.  Secondly, NMR, RABDF and the judges for doing a wonderful job organising such a great and renowned competition year in year out.

And thirdly, I’d like to thank last year’s winners John and Michael from Worthy Farm for their articles, their open day and their insight over the last year   I have visited Worthy Farm a few times before this year’s open day but I must admit I have never seen the cows before. I must try to get back to the festival again now, but I’m a little older, and with my new hip I’d better stay away from mooching in the mud.

 Cows are milking well at Rushywood Farm reports 2015 Gold Cup winner Neil Baker

Cows are milking well at Rushywood Farm reports 2015 Gold Cup winner Neil Baker

There are so many other people that I’d like to thank for all their help and advice over the years but to do so would take up most of the 800 words of my first article.

Accordingly, I’ll just share the following table which demonstrates the amount of people that interact with our business on a regular basis and without whom operating our farm simply isn’t possible.

Direct staff    34
Breeders    5
Vet and staff    15
Breeding advisers    3
Foot trimmers    2
Occasional tractor contractors    20
Crop advice    2
Farm builders    20
Feed deliveries    40
Feed suppliers    10
Feed representatives    10
Domestic builders    5
Parlour and cooling    5
Consultants    4
Fertiliser and agro chems    3
Farm equipment sales    16
Barn equipment sales    8
Milk recording organisations    5
Pedigree registrations    2
Farm supplies (shop and delivery)    30
Milk haulage    8
Cattle haulage    4
Accountant    2
Legal advice    5
Fallen stock    3
Calf sales    5
Builders merchants    2

I compiled the list for a school careers visit here last year just to demonstrate all the careers dairy cows can involve. 

On the subject of farming here in Haselbury, the cows are milking well.  Milk quality is about the best we’ve had it at around 4% fat and 3.5% protein, and we’re currently selling 34 litres per cow in milk a day—or 2.6kg of milk solids a day.  Fertility is about average for us at the moment with the preg rate sitting at 26%.  We’re drying cows off at a rapid rate at the moment as all heifers that we bought last autumn are about to calve out with their second calves this autumn.

We’ve started a few building projects over the last month or so to relocate my hospital pen, move my pre fresh pen back on site at the main dairy and an upgrade of our heifer facility.  However, all are stalling due to extended staff holidays and frankly, a lack of cash flow.  But with our latest 60 day TB test finished this month (August 21st) we have some clear space to get things moving ready for winter.

Dairy farming in the news
My monthly Arla text says our September pool milk price will hold for the month.  Let’s hope all the publicity milk is currently receiving can translate into at least the milk price holding into the new year.

I was listening to one of the many debates about milk price on the radio this week.  I heard a lot of British consumers say it’s our own fault, that it’s the over industrialisation of farming that’s to blame, and that if we’re not competitive in the UK, we should get out of the business. Fair enough, everyone is allowed an opinion, but are they really suggesting that buying dairy products from other countries with equally over industrialised agricultural systems, and differing welfare standards, is better?

An interesting figure that I often quote to visitors here is a number I picked up in the States but I think it’s highly relevant, certainly at least for fully barn housed UK dairy farms anyway.  In one way or another, dairy farms spend in their local economy 2.5 times what their income is.  So in today’s prices at 25ppl, each 10,000 litre cow (keeping the maths easy here) puts £6,250 (£2,500 x 2.5 wasn’t that easy—good job phones have calculators) into the local economy. 

You can do the maths on the cash you and your cows are pumping into your local economy around you.  Do we talk about this?  Nope!  Should we?  I think so!

For example, if milk was selling for a very affordable—albeit un-world driven—price to UK processors and UK consumers alike of 35ppl, each one of our cows has suddenly just contributed £2,500 each into our local communities.  Is that good for us, cows, local towns, agri suppliers, feed merchants, builders, and even the Government?  I’d argue that it is.

Finally, back to the Gold Cup presentation.  Over the years of being on the shortlist, I’ve consumed possibly more than my fair share of wine, but this year I didn’t have a drop as the nerves were really getting to me.  It was good to have a few of my staff and close friends nearby when the announcement was made. 

Apologies for the cheesy grins in the photos, but I have to say I was delighted to lift the trophy for my family.

Reprinted from the September 2015 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website