Long-term worries surrounding this farm include whether I’ll be physically fit to manage it and how net zero carbon emissions will affect it.
Those two issues just add to the overall concerns peculiar to many farmers who have an emotional attachment to their birthplace.
However, most of my short-term worries at the moment are how to deal with the spike in energy rates, and the associated lift in fertiliser prices.
I realise that fertiliser is the hot topic of debate these days, but believe me, if you were rearing pullets in 50-year-old houses, you’d be equally focused on gas and electricity costs too.
In the meantime, we just have to grin and bear it I suppose
I have no doubt that contract-rearing fees will eventually reflect these escalating inputs, but there is a time-lag between energy price-hikes and egg price rises filtering through.
In the meantime, we just have to grin and bear it I suppose.
As Alex Ferguson famously told his under-pressure players: “It’s squeaky bum time”.
I logged on to the CAFRE/AFBI fertiliser Zoom meeting the other evening, which was a mixture of the old and the new.
Up-to-date relevant research was presented alongside some stuff that has been out in the public domain since about 1975.
Nonetheless, there are probably still a lot of farming people who don’t know that soil testing is a fairly good idea, so much of the presented data will have been very useful. And as someone who has been trying to increase the clover content of his swards for two decades, I was fascinated to see how that bit of the evening would be “sold” to us.
My results have frequently been less than spectacular
But fair dues, the presenter (David Patterson) gave a very positive appraisal of the fantastic potential that clover can offer, then went on to point out a few of the pitfalls too.
His honesty was important, because not everyone can consistently make it work for them. My results have frequently been less than spectacular.
And if I’m being entirely honest too, some of the answers that I was looking for were unlikely to be found because they are impossible conundrums, with several possible outcomes and no real right or wrong solutions.
For instance, if I have too many bales this winter, and end up with plenty left over, should I keep them until next year then spread less fertiliser on the silage area? Maybe this seems like a dead cert but consider this: my bales have a habit of storing badly into the second winter, and I only have pregnant sheep and young cattle to feed them to.
Obviously, I would be replacing them with much more expensive ones due to the rise in fertiliser prices
Therefore, how about I sell these extra bales? Obviously, I would be replacing them with much more expensive ones due to the rise in fertiliser prices, and you know exactly the reaction if I suggest to the buyer that they’re a tenner apiece up in price. I’d be laughed out of the field, wouldn’t I?
Here’s another of those impossible puzzles too: if I drop my stocking rate very slightly, and spread less fertiliser accordingly, at what point does profitability actually begin to fall?
Bearing in mind that I don’t spread an awful lot of fertiliser on grazing ground anyway, it would be a short step to dropping those costs altogether. Obviously, the situation on many beef and sheep farms is light years away from the more intensive dairy outfits, who have limited options by comparison.
As things stand right now, stage one of my fertiliser plan must thank the mild autumn, because it looks like there is (initially anyway) plenty of grass for sheep and lambs when the time comes.
Regarding the rest of the grazing season, it’s a case of fingers crossed
At current prices, that March dressing of nitrogen isn’t looking very attractive anyway (as was pointed out during the meeting) and I suspect while this input remains high the spinners will be left in the sheds for another month.
Regarding the rest of the grazing season, it’s a case of fingers crossed and hoping for suitable growing conditions – not necessarily an ideal business strategy for 2022.