Farm Profit Programme: options for ground coming out of forage crops
Many of the focus farmers used some form of forage crop this winter. Now the decision must be made what to do with these fields this year. Robert Gilchrist reports.

Forage crops have been one of the mainstays on several of the Farm Profit Programme farms this season.

As better weather conditions approach, thoughts turn to re-purposing land post-forage crop.

Both the Duguids and the Websters will be returning the fields to grass – they were ploughed and will be sown out soon.

While ploughing his forage crop field, Arthur Duguid decided that next year’s forage crop field will not be ploughed.

Instead, it will be disced and the grass then established into the tilth from the discs. This will reduce the cost of establishing the new ley and bring up fewer stones in what is a particularly stoney field.

Arthur Duguid's next forage crop field will not be ploughed. Instead, it will be disced and the grass then established into the tilth from the discs. \ Donal O'Leary

There are several options for establishing the new ley, each carrying its own advantages and disadvantages.

A new sow-out in spring can mean low production in year one. The Duguids are going to remedy this by adding Westerwolds to the grass mix.

With a vigorous growth habit, the Westerwolds will give a larger bulk to cut come late summer, meaning more production from the field in year one.

Once it has been cut for silage, the new grass ley underneath will be more than ready to support grazing by weaned lambs, giving the advantage of clean grazing and new growth.

The process is very simple, just add 7-8kg/ha of Westerwolds to the grass seed mix. Because you’re not establishing the grass and nurse crop separately, there is also a cost saving.

However, the new grass sward will need to be grazed hard in the back end of the year, as this prevents the Westerwolds growing another year.

Another option is to use a cereal nurse crop. When undersowing spring barley, the seed rate of the barley needs to be reduced to give the new sward the best chance to establish, with the guide being 125kg/ha (actual rate depends on barley thousand grain weight).

This then gives you two options: either take the barley off as an arable silage or wholecrop in late summer, or combine the barley at the usual time.

Taking it off as a wholecrop gives the same advantages as with Westerwolds – a bulk of silage followed by late-season grazing.

If taking it to harvest, the barley seed rate can be increased a little, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not shade out the new sward

Taking it to harvest does mean having both grain and straw as separate feeds. This gives greater flexibility at feedout and the opportunity for more straw for bedding.

However, weed control in barley is more difficult, as herbicides must be selected that will not damage any of the species in the sown ley, eg clovers.

If taking it to harvest, the barley seed rate can be increased a little, but care must be taken to ensure that it does not shade out the new sward.

There are two main issues with undersowing. Firstly, that conditions rarely favour both crops. Secondly, poor weather during harvesting of the nurse crop can mean that the new sward is damaged, with rutting from traffic and rotting from straw lying on it.

This is why Charles Webster favours a direct sow-out of new grass. It means a simpler establishment, with least actual cost to the business.

However, as previously mentioned, it does mean that he will have to wait for the grass to develop sufficiently to be able to utilise it.

Realistically, it will be mid-summer before the new sward is fit to graze with sheep and it will be into autumn before it is fit to graze with cattle.

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.