As the year draws to a close, a mixed set of assessments emerge. On the crop side it was the worst harvest we have had for many years. The cause was straightforward - it was the first year we failed to get our winter crops sown and then a series of decisions that turned out to be wrong as the spring and early summer weather, with floods and a drought, decimated whatever limited yield potential was there from spring-sown winter wheat, oats and beans.
Before we realised the extent of the emerging yield reductions, we re-concreted most of the yard, so that we could load grain lorries safely without contaminating the grain with dust and pebbles from the disintegrating concrete that I had laid down many years ago. As the harvest progressed with a mixture of crops coming in together, it let us trailer the grain from the field to the yard, without depending on a grain lorry turning up precisely on time.
Before we realised the extent of the emerging yield reductions, we re-concreted most of the yard, so that we could load grain lorries safely without contaminating the grain
The consolation on the tillage side is that as the year ends, we have the full amount of winter cereals and oilseed rape well established, with no obvious problems. But it’s a long way to harvest. The takeaway lesson, at least for me, is that earlier sowing is much safer than hoping for a favourable late October/early November.
On the cattle side, the production of beef from dairy-bred steers instead of from continental bulls marked an absolutely fundamental change in the system. Everything is different – a kill-out of roughly 50% instead of 58-60% or even 62%. A much older animal at slaughter (24-28 or 29 months instead of 18-21 months), a much lower carcase weight – around 320kg versus about 420kg for the bulls – and a totally different carcase conformation, with the steers doing well to average O= versus the bulls consistently grading from U- to U+.
For the future, the real concentration will be on avoiding cattle that are likely to grade P
All of these production differences force us to rely much more on grass to get the lowest cost gain possible, with meal and silage only being fed in the final 50 to 60 days to put on an acceptable level of fat cover. I have been encouraged that despite the dairy influence, it has been possible to achieve a consistent fat cover in the 3- to 3+ range. For the future, the real concentration will be on avoiding cattle that are likely to grade P. With the existing structure of breed bonuses and factory payment systems, these P-grading cattle have failed to make any profit whatsoever.
Out in the fields, yet again one of the most satisfying tasks was installing a new drainage system in an area where the old one had broken down. It’s clear from the unceasing flow of water that we have tapped into a previously unknown spring. Whether I can make better use of the water than just watch it empty into the ditch, I will think about in the New Year, which I hope will be happy and prosperous for you all.