May 2016 Gold Cup Comment: Tough business decisions to make

2015 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winner Neil Baker from Haselbury Plucknett in Somerset ended up in casualty again in April and now faces an operation on his shoulder.  He also ponders on some tough business decisions that must be made in future.

Well just as I hit writers block with my May article, I managed to pop my shoulder out again!  So the story goes: I’d seen the physio at Yeovil hospital on the Wednesday and he said—while looking through a bulging file of x-rays and notes—he’d do his best but that I’ll probably need another operation on my shoulder.

In addition to ligament, muscle and tendon damage it seems I also have an actual ‘chip’ on my shoulder (I know you can’t make this stuff up) so therefore he booked me in for an MRI scan.  Since it went out on Easter Sunday it has been absolutely fine, but one Friday afternoon at the end of April my maternity man came to the office with a calving problem.  I was actually on my way out to an appointment so my first response was I’ll get a vet, but Przemek insisted I’d be able to sort it.

Assisted calving
So I get to the pen to find Julia, a second calver from Germany with a fully breech presentation.  She had no other issues so gloves were adorned and I went to attempt to fix things up.  The calf was a bit sideways but the right leg came around ok, the left leg was way deep so I managed to get a grip on the calf’s stifle and pulled the leg nearly all the way up, but then, (you’re ahead of me here) with an odd twist my arm dislocated inside the cow!

This was a new experience for me, so I sort of dragged my arm out and placed it on her back, then managed to get the other leg fully around and out with my left hand, leaving Przemek to pull the calf out.  A live heifer calf and Julia doing okay.

I got a lift into A&E.  Yeovil District Hospital were brilliant as usual, this time having to peel Julia’s amniotic bits and fluids off me before starting to rotate my arm back into place.  So following an x-ray it was back to the farm to change a couple rations then home.  But I now have a definite shoulder operation to fit in at some point soon, until then it seems rugby, plumbing and now calving are beyond my body’s capacity.

Mid April has brought with it perfect growing conditions if still a bit cold.  The grass flew out of its March induced hibernation and is now blowing in the wind.  Maybe an early first cut—which looked out of the question earlier in the season—might well be on the cards.

Neil Baker is hosting the Gold Cup open day at his farm on May 25th.

Neil Baker is hosting the Gold Cup open day at his farm on May 25th.

Spring ground work is going quite well and if things stay set like they are we should have some maize going in early May.  Zero grazing has still not kicked off yet which I would much prefer to have in the ration by now but the tractor team are a bit tied up with our aging fleet of tractors starting to cause quite a bit of downtime.  We might be looking at starting the grass in early May or even taking grass re-growth after first cut.  It can’t come soon enough to be honest as the grass silage we’re feeding now really isn’t nice at all.

In last month’s rambling I touched on our cash flow not being in the best state, with a further 0.75ppl price drop for May and seemingly more drops on the horizon, what can we be changing?  A move to twice a day milking?  Sell some heifers?  Move to a flying herd?  Go back to using contractors, allowing us to sell all our equipment?  Stop investment in buildings?  Stop repairing infrastructure?  Stop repairing our staff properties?

Now some of these clearly are easier decisions than others in the short term but in my opinion all are a backwards step in terms of our businesses development.  If this industry is going to lead us to riding this roller coaster every three years then maybe we need to get used to it.

My concern is that the next generation of farmers will again look at agriculture and say “nah, that’s not for me”.  If that starts to happen again that would be the biggest blot on the 2016 copy book of our milk buyers and processors.  Quite clearly the UK dairy producers are being punished for our exuberance over the years when we were receiving over 30 pence per litre.

This happened before in the years straight after Milk Marque ramped up farmgate prices. Roller coasters are fun for a bit but you wouldn’t want to ride one every day.

So is this just market pressure?  Can we continue to blame Russia and China for not buying and the EU for over producing?  Or is there a high level cartel operating in the UK milk industry?  Indeed in all UK industry?  I believe there is.  I don’t think it’s a traditional cartel, shareholders of big players would not like that.

Maybe this cartel is better described as state run/endorsed asset stripping of hard working people.  Let’s face facts, it’s not just us farmers being hit.  Steel workers, teachers, young doctors, taxi drivers and who knows who else?  Apart from farmers, who in this country knows that things are seriously tough out in the fields and farmhouses of Britain?  So why should we presume everyone else is okay and thriving just because it doesn’t hit the 10 o’clock news?

EU referendum
I have to say in my view the best thing to come out of this EU referendum will hopefully be the split of the Conservative party right down the middle, finally making any of our main parties unelectable on their own.

We need proper, responsible, considered, thinking people in Parliament—people who do actually have conviction to improve their constituent’s lot—and not just be focused on their career path through politics into allied company directorships.

Gold Cup open day RABDF/NMR Gold Cup winner, Neil Baker will be opening his farm gates at Haselbury Plucknett, Crewkerne, Somerset, on Wednesday May 25th from 10:30am.  Pre-registration is essential. Visit or call 0845 458 2711.

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