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In Your Field: Phil Latham - 'Cutting the herd by 10 per cent will save 28 days of silage next winter'

Phil farms 385ha (950 acres) in Cheshire, split between the family farm on Lord Cholmondeley’s estate and Organsdale Farm near Tarporley.

 

He milks 300 cows, mainly pedigree Brown Swiss, as well as diversifying into business units and an equestrian facility. He is also a Nuffield Scholar.

It is very dry still and we have 56 days’ grass silage left at the current rate of usage. Our winter wheat whole crop has no doubt helped extend supplies, but we are eating into our feed stocks at an alarming rate.

 

We simply have not had our normal rain – in June we were 40 per cent down on last year’s volume and we are 75 per cent down in July, making this one of the driest years I have had to cope with.

 

Our plate meter tells us the grass isn’t growing at all and average covers we are turning into would be what we’d normally expect to have as aftermaths after grazing. We are going to try to mitigate the problem with a few options. Firstly, we will accept a lower forage component in the diet, for now at least, and rely more on bought-in feed. Then we will put some stubble turnips in behind the barley which we combined and which the dry cows have been across and eaten the hedge backs out.

 

We will bale the margins on the mid-tier scheme now that we have a derogation using a minor temporary adjustment form. The winter wheat stubble will be reseeded to create an autumn bite and hopefully we will do the same after the maize, because the maize is stunted and its bottom leaves are brown and dead.

 

Our haylage first cut is fully committed to the equine market but, with such a yawning gap in our forage budget, I can’t think that we will have forage to sell if the second cut ever grows.

 

My consultant tells me cutting the herd by 10 per cent now will save 28 days of silage next winter but, with four weeks’ delay in getting cows booked in due to the abattoir capacity being limited, we can’t cut numbers in a hurry. All told, it looks rather worrying.

 

It is at times like this where security of food supply becomes an issue and we should ensure the climatic conditions causing us great concern are highlighted to government. Is it right that we are burning straw or subsidising digesters that are using scarce resources?

 

We need incentives for arable farmers to bale rather than chop straw, derogations to add forage options for cover crops and, if necessary, payments to ease the cash flow burden. Better still, we need a transparent long-term food policy so we can see how government plans to feed our nation.


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