January 2016 Gold Cup comment: Making plans for 2016

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset takes a look forward at 2016 and reports on the latest developments at Rushywood Farm.

Well, Happy New Year.  2015 will be looked back upon as a turning point for UK dairy, with EU quotas removed, we were all (with the exception of retailer aligned producers) fully exposed - some more than others - to the world milk market.

So what can we all do about it?  What we shouldn’t do is retract our industry and milk supply.  We need to encourage our milk buyers to focus on extracting more value per litre for every litre we supply them.  But we also need to do our bit to produce the quality of milk that they require, at the time of year they require it and to a standard that makes the products they produce sell for the maximum value.

As one of the TSDG producers that is now required to supply our full cost of production (COP) in 2016, and as an Arla Amco member, I find myself in the position of having to provide my costs that go on to make up the TSDG pool price without getting the COP price.  Something is not quite in line me thinks!

Surely only the COP TSDG producers who are not Arla Amco should be used?  As we know, the Arla Amco price is market related and far from a COP model—am I missing something?

Keeping competitive
What else can we do to stay more competitive?  Well, reduce costs and I’m not talking about the cost cutting that gets preached at us from above by retailers, processors, professionals and consultants.  Generally, these people have never milked a cow, never fixed a slurry pump when drenched through with your hands so cold you can’t feel your fingers, or have never stayed up all night to help a cow calve and go straight on and do morning milking.  Don’t get me wrong I love what I do and I love what I’ve done, seen and experienced to get to where we are now as a family, but I do feel there is a disconnect between the reality of farming and the advice that generally gets spouted.

Undoubtedly there are costs on farm that can be cut.  Increasing fertility, reducing lameness and cutting waste are all very well, but it’s not easy!

Here at home when the milk cheque gets slashed, investment slows and when investment slows it pushes back on people and therefore the cows and eventually costs.  So is the actual problem our banks?  In periods like this, they need to fall over themselves to continue to help us invest in or businesses in order to reduce costs.  If they did, then instead of all of us investing (aka increasing the litres we sell) when the milk price is at its best, we might level out our investments, which might level out our supply, which might stop some of the massive swings in milk price from year to year.  It could well be that just like stocks and shares, the powers that be don’t like steadiness as steadiness does not make for profit opportunities.

Sugar beet clamped
So they’re my thoughts on the wider picture, but what’s been going on here up at Rushywood?  We finally finished sugar beet harvest and clamped it with soya hulls around the tenth of December, we have a good sized pile of Hullsbeet and I started introducing it into the ration a couple of days ago.  As such it’s too early to tell what the cows are going to make of it.  I have had quite a few digestive upsets in the last two weeks, and a little pneumonia outbreak which is quite unusual for us.

The digestive upsets present as loose cows with milk production dropping a litre or so.  I hadn’t changed anything for a long time as I was waiting for the Hullsbeet to go into the ration, it could be as simple as the weather we’ve had (lots of rain) and that we are effectively under feeding forages.  Time will tell.

The pneumonias are a concern and predominately seems to be very fresh second calving German heifers that are affected, the trigger has either been the rubbish weather, feeding issues or our December IBR booster or most likely a combination of the three.

It did draw into focus the question: why are we giving our IBR boost just after the highest risk period of the year?  We’ve been doing this for years mind you, but I think we’ll shift around my vaccines in 2016 to make sure we’re at maximum cover before winter starts.

Personal targets for 2016
The prospects of a late 2016 dairy market recovery look ever increasingly slim, so budgets are being trimmed more in line with our current milk price.  It’s going to be ever tougher to flourish as a dairy farmer in the near future it seems. So with 2016 full steam ahead already, we must try to retain some grip on why we do this job and not become slaves to our cows.  

With that in mind, here’s my 2016 personal targets in no particular order:

  • Take four holidays (long weekends count) a year,
  • Eat a sensible breakfast everyday,
  • Drink less fizzy drinks (stole that one from my nephew Jamie),
  • Wear more comfortable welly boots,
  • Move from a 12 hour working day to a 10 hour one,
  • Say “no” more often,
  • Find a new hobby to replace playing rugby.

Reprinted from the January 2016 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.