Plenty of progress in Donegal
Matthew Halpin visited the Grieve farm in Donegal last week for an update on the farm's progress.

Father and son partnership Gerard and John Grieve are the Donegal participants of the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge.

The land base comprises of 45ha, a portion of which is leased in. The land would be described as predominantly heavy.

Gerard and John are running a suckler and sheep system.

Since the commencement of the BETTER farm programme, suckler cow numbers have increased from just above the 30-cow mark to 40 suckler cows.

In turn, ewe numbers have decreased slightly to just over the 100 mark.

Adviser John Greaney with John and Gerard Grieve.

The farm system has also undergone a slight change, with all male progeny now being brought to under-16-month bull beef – a shift away from what used to be a weanling system.

Last year, 10 2017-born bulls were finished under 16 months as a trial. Satisfied with the performance of these bulls, all male progeny from 2018 are now in the shed for finishing in this system.

A bull in the under-16-month system.

Down the road, the Grieves are even looking at the option of constructing a finishing shed and purchasing in bulls to go along with their own stock to supplement output and gross margin.

All 2018-born males are being finished.

A small batch of dairy bull calves were purchased in this year and reared.

They are currently housed and will be turned out to grass as early as possible, with the plan being to slaughter these at 20 months.

The dairy bull calves.

Not fully sold on the system, John and Gerard are not planning on buying dairy calves this spring and will instead opt to hold on to their heifer weanling for the winter as opposed to selling them as weanlings.

2018

Last year was an excellent year for the farm.

Given the heavy nature of the land, it was a bumper year in terms of grass growth.

Looking at Pasturebase figures, in excess of 3t DM/ha extra grass was grown over the course of the year.

This is further reflected in the fact that the date for making second-cut silage was six weeks earlier than the previous year and even allowed for an unprecedented third cut to be made.

Performance was also very high.

Scanning saw 41 females out of 42 in-calf, while average daily gain for the bull calves was 1.2kg throughout the summer and autumn.

Those 41 females scanned in-calf have just begun calving, which will continue until mid-March.

Calves sired by the new CF52 stock bull.
Calving has commenced.

For more on the Grieve farm, see this Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal in print or online

Watch: completing an eProfit Monitor
Ahead of the BETTER farm eProfit Monitor analysis for 2018, Matthew Halpin looks at the steps involves in completing the forms.

The 2018 e-Profit Monitor results for the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants are in. Inside this Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal will be the first of a three-part series analysing the financial performance of the programme participants for the last 12 months.

After an extremely tough 2018, it is pleasing to see that on-farm productivity has increased, though the extra costs stemming from tough weather conditions have impacted the group’s gross margins.

eProfit Monitor

Carrying out an eProfit Monitor for 2018 should be a priority for all drystock farmers. After all, a farm is a business and every business is built on financial performance.

If completing with the assistance of your local B&T advisor, the first step involved is to download and print the Teagasc drystock profit monitor input sheet. This input sheet can be found here.

Alternatively, if completing the form by yourself, log in to ICBF Herdplus, select applications and then profit monitor.

It is important that you know exactly what you’re doing if attempting to complete your own profit monitor on Herdplus.

Direct payments

Sales and direct payments” is the first income section to be filled in. The value of your basic payments and other premia are required here. All this information can be found here.

Livestock sales and purchases

The next section that requires income information is livestock sales and purchases details. The information needed for this can be found in your ICBF Herdplus account under the sales and purchase history section.

Livestock opening, closing and average details

This section gives the average number of stock on the farm over the year, as well as looking at the livestock inventory. It is vital to record inventory changes from the year. This information can again be accessed through the profit monitor section of your ICBF Herdplus account under livestock summary. It is then up to you to give a realistic valuation of your current stock using Teagasc's standardised livestock valuations.

Variable and fixed costs

Variable and fixed costs is the final section of the input sheet to be filled out. Many farmers may find it difficult to dig out the information required, but there are a number of sources available. My advice here is to contact feed suppliers, merchants and vets that you buy from and ask them to print account summaries for 2018 – they should be happy to do so. After this, look back at the cheque book, dockets and invoices and online banking for further expenditure.

There is a lot of crossover with fixed costs and although they’re not easy to calculate, they’re vital to understand. Average fixed costs on drystock farms are around €500/ha. Buildings usually depreciate by 5-10% annually, machinery depreciating from 10%-20% depending on the machine.

Analysing your results

The most important part of the process is to then sit down and analyse your completed eProfit Monitor. Examine where the strengths and weakness are within your system and use this information as a tool to improve your margin for 2019. Furthermore, look at the 2018 eProfit Monitor results for the BETTER farms in this Thursday’s paper and see how you compare.

BETTER farm: margins take a beating but production rises
Matthew Halpin reports on the BETTER farm e-Profit Monitor results for 2018

Year two financial data, for the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef challenge participants, is in. It would be fair to say that before pen was even put to paper on completing e-Profit Monitors, the general consensus was that 2018 was an extremely tough year on farm finances.

Whether it was the difficult spring conditions or the long summer drought, each farm was hit one way or another.

As has been continually reported on throughout the last 12 months, conditions took their toll on key areas such as animal performance, herd health and grass growth – all of which chipped away at the bottom line.

Results

Table 1 provides a breakdown of e-Profit Monitor results by system, as well as the group’s overall performance. Jumping straight to gross margin, it is coming in at an average of €610/ha.

Unfortunately, this represents a 13% drop from the group average in 2017. As already mentioned, the signs were pointing towards a gross margin reduction after a turbulent 2018. However, it is the sudden halt in progress that will disappoint the programme farmers the most.

Coming from a base of €570/ha in 2016, 2017 performance showed a year-on-year gross margin increase of 24%.

With so much time and money invested in stock and infrastructure, farmers would have hoped to gather further momentum.

Now over halfway through the programme, it is clearly going to be a big challenge to hit the ambitious €1,250/ha target before the programme’s conclusion, but it is still achievable.

Breakdown

Taking a closer look at performance by system, 20-month bull beef operations returned the highest gross margin in 2018 at €801/ha. Figure 1 shows this was also the system with the largest year-on-year increase, up from €718/ha in 2017.

However, it would be naive not to exercise extreme caution with the 20-month system.

While demand and price for this type of stock was very good in the first half of 2018, the second half of the year and early stages of 2019 have been extremely difficult with price cuts, tight weight restrictions and long slaughter delays being imposed on overage bulls.

These are technically out-of-spec cattle and with that comes high risk.

On the other end of the scale, the figures for weanling producers leave a lot to be desired.

From what was an already low average gross margin of €311/ha in 2017, it has fallen further to €232/ha in 2018. Furthermore, a total of seven weanling producers has now dwindled to just one.

The reality is that the majority of these producers have moved into bull beef production, primarily under 16-month bulls, in pursuit of a higher margin.

But has the conversion worked? The average gross margin for under 16-month bull systems fell €667/ha to €614/ha. The reason for such a drop is largely down to the number of new entrants. In 2017, only five farms operated this system.

A year later, this has more than doubled to 12. As can only be expected, both the performance and efficiency of any first-timer is going to be less than that of the seasoned campaigners.

Those that have been running the under 16-month system for a number of years, fared well.

I think this is best reflected where the range for gross margins among under 16-month bull producers is from as low as €30/ha right up to an impressive €1,563/ha.

The question that must be asked now: is this just a snapshot of a much larger issue? It has been well documented that under 16-month bull beef has very high potential. However, realising this potential is a completely different thing.

With factors such as type of stock, weaning performance, feed quality, housing facilities and even processor relations playing pivotal roles, it is a move that farmers really need to spend time thinking about before any action is taken.

Production

On a positive note, overall farm production is up. The average stocking rate has climbed from 1.97LU/ha to 2.2LU/ha.

Furthermore, looking at Figure 2, average output recorded good growth of 126kg/ha to 859kg/ha.

As a general rule of thumb, top suckler-to-beef farms should be targeting a stocking rate above 2.3LU/ha and output of over 850kg/ha.

For the year, 20-month bull beef production and store selling posted good jumps in output, steer beef and weanling production held steady while under 16-month bull beef had a significant drop, again linked to the aforementioned influx in operators.

The fact that production figures are where they need to be is encouraging.

While neither weather conditions nor beef prices can be controlled by farmers, what’s inside the farm gate most definitely can be.

Going forward for 2019, if the programme farmers can continue to increase productivity, and external factors can facilitate a reduction in variable costs, then the bottom line should be looking a whole lot stronger this time next year.

Of course Brexit is probably the single biggest threat facing the entire beef sector.

Yet despite its threat, there is again very little that farmers can do at this stage only sit, wait and hope for a positive outcome.

Shedding some light on IBR in beef herds
The results of the pilot IBR programme, along with AHI advice on tackling IBR, will be detailed in this Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal.

In 2018, herds participating in the Teagasc/Irish Farmers Journal BETTER farm beef programme enrolled in the first phase of a pilot IBR programme.

The programme was developed by Animal Health Ireland’s IBR technical working group (TWG) in collaboration with Teagasc.

The pilot programme involved sampling and testing a proportion of a herd for IBR, the application of an IBR on-farm veterinary risk assessment and management plan and provision of biosecurity and disease control advice.

The research was led by Dr Maria Guelbenzu, programme manager for BVD and IBR with Animal Health Ireland.

Results

In this week’s Irish Farmers Journal, the initial results of the pilot programme will be profiled.

Analysis of results shows that on average, positive "snapshot" herds were larger than negative herds and had a higher number of animals introduced directly from other herds (moves from farm) than negative "snapshot" herds.

Furthermore, positive herds experienced a higher degree of expansion (herds were 180% larger) than negative herds, which were only 25% larger than in 2013/14.

Advice

The article will also include a comprehensive summary of advice from Dr Guelbenzu as to how positive IBR and negative IBR herdowners should approach the disease.

  • See this Thursday’s Irish Farmers Journal in print and online for the full article. Also, watch the video above of blood-testing cows on Shane Gleeson farm with local vet Matt Ryan and Teagasc BETTER farm adviser Alan Dillon.