Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cleaning machinery prevents spread of seed and animal disease

Taking unwashed machines from one farm to another risks spreading disease

Moving farm machinery from one county to another, from one farm to another farm, or even from one field to the next field, has the real possibility of transferring seeds and diseases that can affect both plants and animals. How easy it is to finish one job, pack the harvester or spreader for transport, and drive off down the road to the next farm - or load the machine onto a truck or trailer and move it hundreds of miles to the next farm which needs the service. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Winter work on grassland will pay dividends

Some timely ideas for grassland farmers to think of doing now

A 'Think Piece' Blog:  Traditional grass management involves doing nothing over the winter months. Farmers wait until the soil warms up in the spring, when fertiliser is applied and the roller and the chain harrow get their annual outing. This Blog suggests that farmers who forget about their grassland over the winter are missing a trick. There's plenty of planning, and also when conditions are right some field work which will pay dividends in the following season.

Winter is the time for livestock farmers to plan the next season's grazing. Six months from now cattle and sheep will be getting much if not all their feed from the grass you grow, and the more pre-season preparation you can do the better grass production will result. Stock will grow, gain condition and provide financial returns on low cost grazing. 

What areas of the grazing need to be checked, and what can I do about it in the cold winter months?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Reducing cow feed costs by up to 10%

Feeding cattle is a skilled job

Many farmers get 'the boy' to do the feeding. He doesn't mind doing it - it's mechanical and not hard work. Neither is it too complicated. He can do it unsupervised. Unlike milking, where a mistake can lead to a disaster, feeding has fewer pitfalls.  So milking is seen as the most important work on the dairy farm, and even in a beef unit. feeding is often a routine left for someone who's had little or no training. 

Think again. Feed is the most costly input in both milk and beef. The combined cost of bought in concentrates and feed materials, plus the home grown or bought in forage is greater than the cost of labour or anything else. 

Friday, September 07, 2012

Organic Farming Takes a Knock

FOR TWO DECADES and more farmers have been told that doing it organically is the only 'sustainable' way to farm. In the past few weeks I have read two reports which question the benefits of organic farming.  These are two high profile studies come from the most prestigious sources - the universities of Oxford in the UK and Stanford in the USA. Both have gained considerable media exposure, and they conclude that conventional farming isn't as bad as we've been told.

I conclude that organic farming is beneficial to all farmers, as it provides a premium market for all types of food that has the effect of providing an uplift for the food market as a whole.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Quad bike gets electronic locking

The New Issue of Practical Farm Ideas, Vol 21, issue 2, has been printed, mailed to subscribers and will be in selected rural stores from Thursday Aug 9. Click through here for details and to order 

Our cover story in this new issue helps farmers keep their quad bikes - and other machinery - on the farm and not part of an insurance claim for theft.

Quad bikes are so often left with their keys in the ignition. It means that Fred can use it and leave the bike for Jim. That the keys won't fall out of the pocket when chasing sheep. Or, if the bike is parked close to where you're working, there's no chance it will be nicked in broad daylight.

Scallies will cruise by and check to see if the keys are there,

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Spotlight on The Dairy Crisis

The role of each party involved and why the minister might be deaf. 

A neighbouring dairy farmer dropped in yesterday...  "what can be done to get us out of this mess?" he asks. He's an efficient farmer, runs a herd of 140 cows with his son, and is very concerned about the milk price reductions due in August. 

I suggested farmers need to look at the components of the problem. What is the role of government? Of the farming unions as representatives of producers? Of milk buyers and, last but not least, the farmers themselves? Can farmers really expect Minister Jim Paice to order an increase in the milk price?

Practical Farm Ideas magazine helps farmers find new methods that improve efficiency. This blog shows how one farmer has gained real control over mastitis in his herd - with zero cases in 130 cows the year we visited him.

Home built back-flushing 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Let's get the London Milk March right!

Milk:  the on-going farming crisis

The presentation of the current dairying crisis needs planning and presentation. This article outlines what needs to be done by farming leaders, and the marchers in London. Dairy farmers need a better deal. But to get it they will need convincing arguments, a compelling presentation of the facts, and friends in high places. 

The hope is that the march will include these, as well as the passion and noise. 

The performance of farming leaders on Radio 4's 'Today' last week was seriously unconvincing

The Today Programme presenter John Humphrys is sympathetic to the dairy farmer's cause. For some years he had a dairy farm himself in Carmarthenshire,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wiseman milk price forecast correct

When on January 16, 2012  Müller Dairies bought Wiseman for £279.2m, the deal was said by Robert Wiseman to make strong strategic sense, to have synergy and the maximise the 'complementary positions' of the two companies.

The 360p/share deal looked good for Wiseman shareholders, who had been trading the stock at 250p. I discovered that a large proportion of the purchase was from a Deutsche Bank letter of credit for €250m, at a rate greater than 5%.

At the time we concluded that Müller would be wanting it's Wiseman dairy farmer suppliers to contribute to the cost, as the opportunities for an uplift in prices, despite the operating synergies, seemed limited.

So it is no surprise to hear that on April 30th Wiseman announced at they would be cutting farm gate prices by 2p (6.6%) to 26.42 p/standard litre.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Water harvesting saves farmer money

Practical Farm Ideas arable contributor Mark Pettit who farms 600ha of all combinable crops near Gainsborough

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The diesel question - future price trends, and cutting costs

As the price of oil rises the pain for buyers increases. Farmers are price takers and not price setters, so they have no possibility to raise their selling price of corn, meat or milk to take account of the rise in diesel. 
Securing supplies of diesel is a major concern for farmers today. Now is not the time for supplies to be interrupted. Each farmer has to make his own buying decision, and the relevant information he has to do this is scarce, even though commodity markets are in information overload, with facts mixed up with fiction, 

Friday, March 23, 2012

March 23

A less than neutral budget

Farming didn't get a mention in the Budget speech, but that doesn't mean it will have no effect on farming. In fact, the long term consequences could be quite considerable.

ON FUEL, the Chancellor is criticised for not giving an inch on the rising cost of fuel prices, and the confirmation of the increase in fuel duty this summer will surely make things harder for people in the country.

The answer is going to be greater economies on the farm. Fuel consumption is going to be of greater consideration when choosing tractors and machinery, and when deciding how to do farming operations. Will farmers continue to have a fuel arrangement with their contractor which

Monday, March 12, 2012

BBC Countryfile moves further away from farming

BBC Countryfile moves further away from farming

Many farmers are complaining that 'their' TV slot is being hi-jacked by people they describe as 'the sandal brigade', 'foodies and fadies'  and 'rural tourism' and so on. It's hard to deny it. 
But, as Andrew Thorman explained to a group of farming journalists from the GAJ, the audiences for all the farming programmes, including the early morning Farming Today, have increased

Friday, February 24, 2012

How productive is it to roll grassland?

The cost of diesel and time makes it important for each tractor job to have a positive financial outcome. This blog asks about the benefits of rolling grass in the spring, and suggests the outcome may actually be negative. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Farmers have a major role in drought and flood issues

Todays DEFRA conference should be looking at soil management

The up-coming drought in the S-E of England is worrying farmers, who are demanding concessions to any drought orders in order to protect their crops and livelihoods. Yet it is on their land that the rain mainly falls. Is modern land management, that is, the way farmers work the land, in any way responsible for the problems of drought and flood?  And if so, is there anything which can be done to help solve the problem? 

Practical Farm Ideas thinks there is.  For years

Saturday, February 04, 2012

EU funding: less for farming, more for science

Farm leaders need to focus on agri research funding as well as defending farmers' CAP entitlements

'Cut spending on agricultural support through Single Farm Payment and use the money on increased research' is not simply a call from UK universities wanting to protect their budgets, but is one which looks like getting the backing of Business Secretary Vince Cable. 
In a recent interview to the magazine Science|Business Vince Cable said "Overall UK government policy is to restrict the EU budget, but within that overall budget we would like to spend more on innovation" and he went on to say that money should be spent on science rather than agriculture. 
With the Science minister David Willetts right behind him, and PM David Cameron personally launching an overall UK Innovation Strategy, there's a good deal of support in Cabinet, and Caroline Spelman from Defra looks likely to be out-gunned. 
While the focus of innovation is on science outside agriculture, the hope is there will be opportunities for innovative ideas and developments in agriculture to be rewarded and financially encouraged, and this could and should include farmers. 
Will the farmer's greatest lobbying body, the NFU, catch the direction the wind is blowing and ease the way for a leg-up for ingenious farmers who have ideas which can make a difference throughout the world of agriculture? Plus making sure that agri science and technology is up there with other life sciences, engineering and other research areas. Or will the NFU stick to its guns and continue to focus on payments based on area and past entitlements?
Agri research has been under pressure for the past decade, and many valuable and well established centres either closed or minimised. A review of the present work, in both agri science and agri technology would be a useful starting point for the whole industry, farmers included. At present it always appears that there is significant duplication in some areas, while others are left unattended. 

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Some 'modern' farmers are slow to change

Some 'modern' farmers are slow to change

For them, the risks of change are greater than the security of doing things the way they have been done for the past few decades.

Is there any other trade or business so resistant to change and technical development as farming? Air transport took a about a decade to make the huge change from propellers to jet engines. Medicine takes on new drugs and techniques as fast as they are approved. The print industry, in spite of huge union resistance, took up computers long before they became a part of household life. Retailing has gone on-line, phones gone mobile, cars diesel, broadcasting digital, and those in any of these industries who have taken the view that change can only make things worse have been truly left behind, sometimes finished.

Here are two recent experiences which tell me that farming is different. Take the case of the dairy farmer who has been shooting his 'surplus' bull calves for the past decade or so. When an alternative is suggested, an alternative that might be slightly more productive, which might use this by-product of milk production as a human food source rather than an expendible waste product, which maybe a more ethical option to shooting them for disposal, he hums and haws, looking for good reasons why his calf policy is still right economically, and therefore, as a business-like farmer, ethically okay as well. The other farming head-in-the-sand is a 1000 acre cereal grower who totally resists the idea of replacing his plough and power harrow policy, justifying his rejection of min-till and other techniques by saying that he's "a traditional farmer, in an locality that is made up of traditional farmers - we plough and have always ploughed", someone who considers his cultivation methods makes him a pillar of society and sobriety, giving him the highest agricultural standards, even though the comparative costs, both in terms of carbon footprint and ££s, are considerably higher.

The case of the calf shooting farmer came on the BBC Countryfile programme of Jan 22 2012. Presenter John Craven looked at humane 'rose' veal, and how it might provide a market for the surplus bull calves from dairy herds.  Going into the street with some ready-to-eat cooked samples to test consumer reaction, and getting approval; talking to the meat trade and recording positive comments, he then gets his boots on a talks to our commercial dairy farmer.

The interesting part of the interview was the farmers response to John Craven's asking what was stopping him rear the calves rather than shoot them at birth.

"It's not so simple," the farmer explained. "I don't know if I have the skills to rear these calves as veal. I'd need to find out the techniques, the costs and find markets for the finished rose veal calves." It sounded as if he was saying "I don't want to be bothered, my business is alright as it is." even when faced with the evidence that there might well be a better solution to his calf problem.

Which takes me back to the original question - is farming the trade that's most resistant to change? In what respect is farming different to other industries? The answer must be that some modern day farmers are very wary of new methods, and find they can afford to be so. For them, the risks of change are greater than the security of doing things the way they have been done for the past few decades. In a business which has such significant tax payer support - amounting to nearly half the Total Income From Farming, they have a financial buffer which other businesses don't enjoy, and one which allows older methods to remain financially feasible.

How good it would be to hear the dairy farmer tell John Craven - 'it sounds an interesting idea, I'm going to try rearing a few of these calves for veal and get in touch with people who can market them'; and from the arable man 'it would be worth while experimenting min-till on a field next autumn, even with some adapted machinery - I would like to find out more'.