Farming Connect Study Visit - West Wales Grasshoppers
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.
West Wales Grasshoppers
21st-22nd June 2017
The aim of the visit is to visit profitable farm businesses that have managed to de-risk their businesses by either diversifying their business activity or by finding low risk methods of production. We intend to learn about different farming systems and business structures as well as look at how business models with similar challenges in terms of grass based dairy farming are finding solutions.
On the first day we visited Sam Martin at Simon Martin Farms, who milk 375 cows on a spring calving system. They had recently sold a second autumn calving unit in Fareham, as well as running other contract farming enterprises. We spent time problem solving cow flow issues with the farm owner and herd manager, including making an appraisal of a new dairy setup on the current site. Time was also spent analysing the Farm CFP, which stood at 22.4 pence per litre total costs before rent, finance & personal drawings. A great deal of time was spent questioning the owner on his time management regarding overall business operation. The group were impressed by the excellent grass leys and surprised by the total grass grown. The group acknowledged the difficulty of growing a business at £12-14,000/acre land value. The group agreed that persuading land owners that livestock production is a good idea is difficult.
- Potential for more livestock production in the South of England subject to landowner and capital restrictions.
- Grass based milk production should not be an excuse for lower output.
- Good grassland management is reflected in an excellent CFP
We then visited Jamie Butler at Meon Springs, Whitewool Farm. Jamie was a good example of how to balance a business with various activities, all of which successful. The dairy enterprise consisted of 400 cows on more of a high yielding TMR based ystem than a grazing one, but provided something different for the group.Careful interrogation of the CFP by the group resulted in the farm owner admitting there was work to be done to improve financial performance, which stood at a CFP cost of 29.3 pence per litre. The group debated what would be needed to utilise more grazed grass which resulted in a discussion about suitable genetics. Labour retention was an issue on the farm and although there was a clear management structure with strategic goals being discussed, there was a lack of measurable KPIs being set by the owner. 50% of the farm income came from other activities including storage, fishing, yurts, Sheppard’s huts and shooting. The group also questioned the host on people development and time management.
- The group should undertake psychometric testing to understand themselves and how they interact with others.
- KPIs are important to help measure staff progress.
- Diversification may detract from core business goals.
- Retailer aligned contract has allowed the dairy enterprise to become inefficient.
- Arable contract farming provides very little return.
On the second day we visited Andrew Sellick and Carol Macpherson at Gawthorpe Estate. They run a 230 cow herd using an autumn calving system and self-feed silage. After his herdsman left last year, Andrew entered into a contract farming agreement with Carol. This was a business with a good history of robust CFP data. The group spent time quizzing the hosts about the contract arrangement. The group focused on Andrew’s 4 way breeding policy (Hol x Jer x FR x SR) and how that affected Carol’s ambition and passion to breed Holstien cows. A thorough analysis of CFP and physical data allowed the group to calculate a cost of 25.9 pence per litre before rent and finance. There was much discussion on how Carol, the contractor, had managed to bring her retailer aligned contract with her from a previous FBT.
- Well set up contract arrangements are a great way to commit both parties.
- Simple grazing and concentrate systems can provide an income for both farmer and contractor.
- Breeding goals should be the domain of the contractor as long as it does not affect the value of the herd.
- Find out what limits the use of contracts like this in West Wales.
The last farm we visited was Chris Martin’s farm, C & C Farms. Chris kept a spring calving herd consisting of 500 cows. This was solid business that had a focussed team. The group asked about the difficulties of spring calving in drier climates and quizzed the manager on the market for spring milk in the South of England. With an aging owner and manager, the group asked about their succession planning. The group had an opportunity to watch milking take place on a floating Rotaflow milking rotary. The business was set up with separate profit and loss accounts for dairy, arable and holiday lets and a discussion was had on how these were managed in practice.
- Draw more comparative data of profitability at higher feed rates.
- Undertake personal psychometric testing as a group.
- Review our own training needs to develop our management styles.
- Host a return visit from Hampshire farmers.
- Review staff management methods on each member’s farm.
- Review our CFPs against the Hampshire dairy farmers.