Shropshire Strategic Farm business event report - 12.02.20

Date: 12 February 2020

Speakers: Neil Brown (Strategic Farmer) David Lyth (business consultant) and Emma Steele (AHDB)

Overview of New House Farm and progress since October meeting

Take-home messages
  • Overview of the farm and business
  • Neil gave an update on the progress he’s made since October.
  • This includes training with FECPAK and time spent with business and grassland consultants to help him better understand his business. This allows Neil to begin to improve both physical and financial performance by starting to think more openly about change.
  • There was a lot of discussion around rotational grazing and how it could improve grassland utilisation.
  • The group spoke about how best to start rotational grazing with lots of experience shared in the room. Suggestions were put forward around starting small and then building up. The majority agreed the best kit is reels with three wires.
  • One attendee has made a video after the event about how he rotationally grazes. Visit @IanDHorsley on Twitter to see for yourself.
  • Neil also stressed he now has a better appreciation of what data needs to be collected across the farm to improve accuracy of FarmBench figures as well as his own management. He aims to collect lamb loss data over lambing as well as lameness information during the coming year alongside weighing stock more regularly.

The big question – should Neil keep breeding?

  1. Looking into the beef business – should New House Farm be continuing to breed and finish their own suckler calves, or should Neil look to keep more cows and sell stores, dropping the finishing enterprise?
  2. David took the audience through Farmbench data for New House Farm’s beef enterprises and pulled out three key areas for improvement
    • Winter forage quality
    • Machinery usage
    • Soil management

 Take-home messages

  • The group viewed the relevant data from Neil’s Farmbench report showing full cost of production (COP) and cash COP for both suckler and finishing enterprises. Both enterprises currently make a loss when fully costed (including unpaid labour and rental imputation). Please note, Neil’s Farmbench data may not be fully accurate as this year is a starting point.
  • The group discussed considerations the farm would need to make before changing the beef enterprises, including labour at calving, effects on main business including the sheep and building space.
  • Neil wants to continue to finish his own cattle but will change the management system to try and get animals away quicker with less hard feed.
  • The group discussed silage quality and the benefits around making the best silage possible to reduce hard feed costs. Including cutting, turning and baling protocols.
  • There was debate around over-mechanisation and the costs associated. The general view was whilst it’s convenient to have your own kit and availability when required (and not at the mercy of a contractor), the costs associated with depreciation and maintenance cannot be ignored and must be carried by the business. David stressed many farm businesses are over-mechanised at huge cost – is there a better way to get the job done?
  • The benefits of having a nutrient management plan were shown. New House Farm knows the full nutrient status of its soils, expensive inputs can be more effectively used to improve physical performance of grassland and arable enterprises.

Questioning routines – how to embrace change

Take-home messages
  • Attendees watched a video from Strategic Farmer Mark Jelley on the change process for his farm. He gave three top tips for anyone looking to change their business
    • Don’t take change personally – people are trying to improve your business, not tell you you’re doing it wrong
    • Ensure you’re producing what the market requires – doing something just because you love doing it is not a good enough reason. This is extremely important in the beef industry with decreasing carcase weight caps
    • Attention to detail – making small changes and doing them well can make a big difference
  • Attendees discussed the benefits of getting a second opinion – either from a consultant or trusted friend. Marc Jones spoke hiring grassland consultant once a year, despite being a grassland consultant himself, to ensure he’s keeping up with new technologies and to sense check what he is doing.
  • Conversation turned to succession. A young farmer spoke of the difficulties of returning home to the family farm with new ideas post university and the challenge of making changes when the older generation is still an active part of the business. We discussed the possibilities of using independent mediators to aid these conversations/changes on farm. The parent of another young farmer gave advice on how best to approach the situation having gone through a similar experience – take things slowly and be patient.
  • A representative from Natural England reminded attendees that Countryside Stewardship schemes are open for applications and where to go for more advice

Further information