Farming Connect Study Visit - Angel Discussion Group
The following report has been written by the farmers and forester who took part in the visits. All views and opinions included are their own.
Angel Discussion Group
19th - 20th October 2017
The aim of this visit to North Wales is to see how their farming systems operate so that the group can take note of what they have seen and implement the positive practices on their farms. The visit will focus on the unique problems facing Welsh dairy farmers and what strategies have been implemented to help overcome these. All farms to be visited are grass based systems, concentrating on maximising grass production and litres of milk produced from grass to reduce their overall cost of production. We also hope to gain an insight into how different business models and shared farming agreements have helped bring young blood into the industry and improved business resilience and profitability.
Sam Carey, Rhiwlas Farm, Bala
On the first day we visited Sam Carey who milks 500 cows on a spring calving unit as part of the Rhiwlas estate which is run on a joint venture and farm business tenancy agreement. Sam gave an overview of how the agreement is set and the incentives it provides him with a share of the profits as well as building up capital through accumulating ownership of stock. This gives him a vested interest in improving business performance and profitability which wouldn’t be the case if he was taking a standard salary as farm manager. This provides a ‘win-win’ situation for Sam and the estate owner who are in regular contact to ensure the business operates in a smooth manner. This was a very useful insight to the group members who could see Sam’s enthusiasm for the enterprise and how the agreement in place incentivised him to drive business performance – something they could duplicate on their farms to improve their business structure.
Sam led a tour of the farm buildings where conversations were had on cow flow and housing capacity which might need to be increased if Sam plans on expanding the herd. Being a long, narrow farm cows have quite a long way to walk for milking which will in turn affect milk yields. Discussion was had on planning a rotational grazing pattern to ensure each group of cows are not consuming too much energy walking twice a day to be milked. CFP analysis highlighted good profitability but milk yields were lower than expected considering concentrate feeding levels but this was a fairly young herd with yields expected to increase as the herd matures.
Dafydd Wynne Finch, Foelas Farm, Betws-y-Coed
The afternoon visit was to Foelas farm, which was run on a joint venture agreement similar to the situation with Sam Carey. The farm had experienced problems retaining staff in the past and the move to a shared farming agreement has helped solve this. Being located in the Snowdonia National Park, the farm was quite exposed and prone to harsh winters therefore having adequate housing was crucial. Recent investment in housing has seen an increase in milk yield and general cow health. Discussion was had on cubicle design and feed space when upgrading housing facilities. The group had an opportunity to watch milking take place on the 50-point rotary parlour and were impressed with cow flow and throughput with this system. Producing milk from grass and forage is the philosophy and a yearly reseeding policy is in place to maximise grass growth and quality to keep cost of production as low as possible.
Sam Pearson, Hendre Llwyn y Maen, Conwy
The purpose of this visit was to see a techno grazing system on a beef farm. We learnt that set up costs were expensive with the fencing materials, water system and initial mapping out of the land into equal sized paddocks. But once set up, then running costs should be minimal. This system highlighted the easy management of stock as the same area is allocated daily and stock can be moved by one person, safely and easily. There is also opportunity to maximize grass production. We learnt that it was a very technical system as the grass needs to be measured weekly and the growth rates of stock monitored but this is the way to maximize animal performance and profitability. Animal performance had to be monitored closely to ensure that they are meeting their targets. This would be a good opportunity as a start-up business for a young farmer if they could attain 20-30 acres and manage it easily as low cost system. This system requires land that is suitable for out-wintering.
Gareth Williams, Y Gilan, Llangernyw
This was a high-altitude farm that experienced high rain fall. Gareth had attained an FBT on the farm but there were no facilities for milking or housing. The farm needed a complete re-seeding and cow tracks to implement a spring calving system which had very high initial costs in terms of capital investment. Unfortunately for Gareth, this took place during a period of low milk price and trading became very difficult as a result. Due to the low income, he has been unable to build any housing facilities. The last few years have also been challenging due to very high rainfall which affected herd performance as there has been no option to house the cows and buffer feeding proved to be difficult. All cows are off farm during the winter on a B&B agreement. This works well but the keeper wants them for a longer period than Gareth would like and this affects the potential days in milk. The rental value for the farm was high considering the work that needed to be done to the land and that there were no facilities.
- Staff is becoming an issue, farmers feel that good staff may need to be paid extra or possibly offered a share or profit share agreements.
- If taking on new land on any form of agreement, do not come across as that you have to have the land as other opportunities will come along.
- Ensure that any written agreements (tenancies) have clauses in them to allow you to negotiate rental values during that agreement on possibly a yearly basis.
- Ensure you read and formalise agreements with a professional body.
- It seemed the farms’ main target was low concentrate use but this had an effect on total milk output. The group felt that there was a benefit to increasing concentrate expenditure when milk price is high.
- Many liked the concept of techno grazing and could see it as a system to rear dairy heifers. The main reason was the simplicity of the system and the low labour requirements. The system would reduce capital investment on farms able to out winter animals.
- There seemed to many opportunities in North Wales for start-up dairy units, typically large blocks of land with capacity for 300-400 cow units.
- It was good to see young farmers given the opportunity to run their own businesses.
- All farms had rotary parlours, initial capital investment is higher but milking times are much shorter and therefore staff were happier and could finish early.
- With the cows having to walk long distances together with steep slopes on some farms, the group felt that tracks had to be of the highest quality. Cows also needed feed as extra energy was being used for walking which would in turn affect yield.