December 2015 Gold Cup comment: Getting ready for winter

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset reports on the latest developments at Rushywood Farm and the preparations being taken for the coming winter and ponders on the future of marketing milk.

We had a completely horrendous night of weather in early November which brought our 2015 zero grazing season to an end.  In this year of depressed milk prices this very simple management change has saved us a lot of cash and I think is here to stay for the long run—feeding our cows with basically zero waste in field, and giving the ability to spread manure more frequently.

I’m looking forward to zero grazing spring grass for the first time.  Hopefully we’ll be cutting again in a couple of months time.

Milk yield has dropped one litre per cow since the change, and I’ve lost 0.1% of protein.  I did drop half a kilo of blend as well because the ration programme allowed for that.  But I’m afraid the computer may not quite understand the intake increase factor a third forage has, especially a green forage.  The half kilo of blend is back in now so we’ll see how things progress.

Maize harvest is all done except for one re-drilled field.  Yields were about average at 16.7 tons an acre, monitored on our guessing/estimating harvester driver calibration system.  It seems it was a good season for yield but a very poor year for getting crops to reach maturity.  Harvest around here seemed to be at least two to three weeks late.

Maize harvesting
The new forager did a much better job this year.  Last year the processor was not functioning properly at all.  I’m not sure what milk that cost us but it would be considerable.

This year they disabled the electronic adjustment and screwed the cracker down tight manually.  It did the job but the machine was very noisy in the cab.  When we’d nearly finished, our machine broke down so we had a newer demonstrator harvester for a day which was set with electronics and was quiet.  The amount we spend on these machines, in my opinion, is not really matched by the levels of support that is available to us.

Calf health has suffered this month.  I think the build-up of stocking pressure—or more importantly disease pressure caused by TB restrictions and our high calving numbers in September and October—has allowed a scours outbreak to occur.

It’s amazing that however organised we think we are, something always goes wrong.  The fact it happened in our calf raising facility is very annoying as that is the area of the business with a complete work instruction for every single job.  With a move around of pens, staff and calves, things are back on track now thankfully.  But it’s going to badly effect our calf health and losses numbers.

The first week of November for me did not resemble a farmer’s life as I was off farm for four days out of five.  In the week I covered 727 miles from Coventry to Cheshire to Bridgwater to home to Worcester to Bridgwater again then home.

TSDG conference
The Worcester trip was to attend the TSDG conference.  The head of Tesco Fresh, Matt Siminster, gave an overview of Tesco strategy and how TSDG producers sit within that.  It certainly seems that the TSDG structure is here to stay, but with seasonal producers now becoming core members, a competitive element being introduced with the ‘scorecard’, capping of the TSDG price when the market price rises above the cost of production (COP) and the slight curve ball of how Arla Amco Tesco litres are paid to producers.

One thing is for certain: the British milk market will never be straightforward.
There was a slightly odd presentation at the Tesco conference from a futures trader who seemed to be peddling the message of forward selling milk to a group of farmers who have been on COP contracts, not quite sure how that links up.  When asked by one of the farmers present, I got the feeling the panel weren’t 100% sure why that presentation was made either.

I do believe there has to be a place for UK farmers in the milk futures market, quite who will be first to break with the UK milk industry contact norm will be intriguing.  To fix a portion of our supplied milk has to be a sensible move, especially with this new norm of 15p to 35p per litre price variation seemingly here to stay.

Preparing for Christmas
With the plethora of dodgy Christmas adverts starting on the TV the Christmas season seems like it’s fast approaching, which as always is heralded by a heap of four to six week holiday requests landing on my desk.  Another Christmas joy comes with our suppliers trying to deliver six weeks supplies in the first half of December.

Along with planning all our routines around bank holidays, it sounds like the normal mid-winter of staff changes and training will be upon us here in Haselbury.  Let’s hope for a dry, crisp December.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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