Farm Profit Programme: Italian ryegrass doing the business at Cranna
The Duguids at Cranna sowed Italian ryegrass and forage rye in winter barley stubbles last August. Arthur Duguid outlines how the swards have performed to date

In late August last year, we sowed out around 20 acres of winter barley stubble – half with Italian ryegrass and half with forage rye and vetch.

The idea behind this was to produce more feed on the farm later into the back end, while also providing an early bite in spring.

Typically, the crop rotation here sees winter barley ground sown out to turnips the following spring. This means the ground is in stubble for around eight months.

In recent years, we have used these stubbles to hold up the fittest autumn-calving cows, to try and manage body condition in the run up to calving.

However, given the drought last summer and the reduced first-cut silage crops, we felt sowing it out offered better value for money, as we attempted to fill the fodder gap.

We decided to split the field half and half, to see which option proved to be more successful.

Both the Italian ryegrass and forage rye plus vetch were sown into the stubble ground in the last days of August.

Through the back end it provided us with two decent grazings for the sheep.

Early growth

Most of the grazing ground received its first application of nitrogen in the middle of March, once soil temperatures were sitting above 5°C at a depth of 10cm.

Current sward height is showing good spring growth.

Grass is slowly starting to grow, so hopefully after the cold spell this week conditions will settle down and growth will take off properly.

The Italian and rye received no fertiliser this spring, yet in the last fortnight growth has really kicked off compared with the rest of the grass parks.

Looking at the two crops, it is easy to see at the moment which is performing better. The Italian ryegrass is a much thicker, denser sward, while the rye is somewhat patchy.

Unfortunately, the majority of the vetch seems to have failed for some reason. What is there is very small and weak.

Grazing

We decided to turn out 22 in-calf autumn heifers onto this ground last week. It is the earliest we can remember having beasts out at grass here at Cranna.

Our typical turnout date for the majority of stock would be early May – perhaps late April in a good year.

They have the Italian grazed tight, while they are slow to make much of an impression on the rye

We split the field into three sections to get the best utilisation of the available grass. This is being done like the spokes of a wheel, as the drinking trough is faced towards the top corner of the park.

Ground conditions are decent, and we are not overly worried about a bit of damage as those fields will be ploughed in a months’ time.

This has given the stock a cross section of both the Italian and forage rye. It is interesting to study their grazing behaviour, as they seem to prefer the Italian ryegrass compared with the forage rye.

They have the Italian grazed tight, while they are slow to make much of an impression on the rye.

Perhaps if they didn’t have the choice they would make better use of the rye, but all this leads us to think that if we are to do this again we would go for all Italian ryegrass.

Will we do it again?

If we do it again or not will depend on the next few weeks of grazing. The field is to be ploughed for turnips in the first week of May.

If we can get another couple of grazings from it I think it will have been a worthwhile exercise, especially given the reduced silage yields last year.

We must also remember that it has been a kind winter for us in Scotland, which will have aided production this spring.

Had it been a harder winter, then perhaps the results may be different – perhaps the rye would have outperformed the Italian in colder conditions? It’s hard to say this early on.

Price cuts and oversupply hit milk sector
Graham’s The Family Dairy was with a 10% increase in milk supply; and First Milk cut price paid in June.

Falling prices and increased volumes are challenging the dairy sector. First Milk has cut its price to producers due to “downward pressure on dairy markets”, and UK production has been hitting a 20-year high every month this year. Meanwhile, Graham’s The Family Dairy has struggled to cope.

“Our milk production was up by 10% this year, compared with last year. This is a real challenge for us as an independent family dairy business, as milk volumes must be in line with our customers’ needs,” said Robert Graham, managing director.

“We are having positive conversations with our dairy partners and colleagues to address these ongoing challenges, working together on the best way to understand what the milk supply needs to be, and deliver on it.”

As processing capacity is outstripped by supply, excess milk will be put on the market, having a downward effect on prices. Average UK price is 29p/l, slightly above the five-year average of 27.5p/l.

The UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend

First Milk has announced that its price will reduce by 0.3p/l from 1 June to 27.45p/l for liquid milk and 28.37p/l for manufacturing milk.

Jim Baird, First Milk vice-chair and farmer director, said: “Unfortunately, we now need to make this adjustment in light of the downward pressure on UK dairy markets. Looking forward, global dairy markets are looking more positive and, with peak largely behind us, the UK milk future projections are also indicating an encouraging upward trend.”

Market for dairy calves

Finding a market for male dairy calves was the subject of conversation at the Exiles dairy discussion group meeting in Dumfries last Tuesday.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production

The discussion group – primarily made up of spring-calving, grass-based dairy farmers in southwest Scotland and northwest England, are trying to find alternatives to slaughter for male dairy-bred calves.

Up until now, the only real market for these low beef-merit Holstein Friesian and Jersey-cross calves was for pet food production. But milk buyers, responding to concerns from the public, are beginning to enforce rules around minimum age for slaughter.

The dairy farmers say that finding an alternative market for these calves is difficult and that an industry-wide initiative needs to be put in place to reduce the number of low beef-merit calves, but also to find a market for beef calves from the dairy herd.

One farmer said it cost him £12/head to transport three-week-old Hereford-cross calves from his dairy herd near Dumfries to a market at Carlisle, only for the calves to make an average of £28 in the ring – below the cost of feed and transport.

Scottish beef and lamb markets experience a dip in price
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's lamb and beef sectors.

Cattle prices slipped a little this week as abattoirs took advantage of decent supply, with prices paid closer to £3.60/kg compared with £3.65/kg last week for an R4L steer.

The official AHDB reported price dropped 1p/kg to £3.67/kg for an R4L steer.

This maintained a premium over the northern English price of 9p/kg for the same grade cattle.

Heifers are reported by the AHDB as a good trade at £3.70/kg for an R4L.

Deadweight cow prices rose 5p/kg to £2.73/kg for an O-4L carcase, which is 8p/kg more than northern England.

Lamb market

The live market for lambs tumbled by 19p/kg to £1.88/kg for medium-weight lambs.

Heavier lambs also fell by 18p/kg to £1.76/kg live weight.

Numbers of old-season lambs sold through the live ring fell back again as the season is drawing to a close, with 1,300 fewer lambs sold, with 8,941 head through the live ring.

Meanwhile, 5,211 store lambs were sold through Scottish marts, with a big sale at United Auctions.

The AHDB is reporting a UK price of £5.04/kg for an R3L carcase, with a kill of over 16,000, which is up 7,000/head.

Numbers of new-season lambs sold through the live ring rose again by 700 head to 1,565 lambs.

Ayr, Lanark, St Boswells, UA Stirling and Thainstone marts sold over 100 new lambs each.

The average price for medium-weight lambs was £2.28/kg liveweight. Cast ewes through the ring fell nearly 1,000 head on the week to 2,668 head, as the average price dropped £5/head to £63/head.

Beef wobble worry
Farmers Journal Scotland editor John Sleigh has his take on the week's big news.

It’s worrying that a few abattoirs cut their beef price this week to just over £3.60/kg for an R4L steer. It would seem increased beef supply and weak consumption are allowing processors to claw the price back a couple pence.

Retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year

After a sharp fall in supply from mid-March to April, we have seen a recovery in the last three weeks. While our beef kill is unchanged on the year, when you factor in a higher average carcase weight there is 0.6% more volume on the market.

Meanwhile, retail sales have been struggling, sliding by around 4% on the year, with roasts taking a significant hit.

The good news is the current supply peak usually finishes just after the Highland Show, and barbecue season should kick in soon, helping to increase consumer demand.

No cars at future shows

Having no cars at the Highland Show was one of the recommendations by a transport expert to chief executive officer Alan Laidlaw.

Alan found it hard to imagine how thousands of farmers could descend on Ingliston without using motor vehicles.

But future planners are serious about the combustion engine’s demise, and felt that not much parking will be needed for the double centenary year in 2040.

If this comes to bare, then we better widen doors on the trains from Mallaig if we want a Highland cattle class.