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Rodney Down: A desperate plea for innovation in the dairy industry

The current milk price means there’s a desperate need for innovation in dairy, says Somerset producer Rodney Down.
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Rodney Down
Rodney Down

I know my more northern counterparts will not want to hear it, but spring is still being extremely kind to us in the South West. Just enough rain and decent dry spells to get on with the work. Wheat is still completely disease-free and the maize has emerged excellently, herbicides will go on next week. Grass growth has been nice and steady and easy to manage.

First cut was done in excellent weather – we could have done with being a week earlier, but massive yields reflected this. Our maize clamp is now full of grass silage as a result.

As we do the silage ourselves it is always a challenge to get enough drivers for the long hauls on off ground. My main landlord usually helps, but this year saw a total of three landlords hauling silage. It is fantastic as most of them turn up with their own tractor, they know where to go and, as the locals see lots of local farmers travelling with silage, they think they are all making silage and therefore cannot blame me for all the traffic chaos in the village.

It also gives them a chance to nose around other people’s land. All I need to do now is get the remaining few to dust off their tractors and we will have a full house at silage-making time; it could be the new social event of spring.

Now to our biggest headache; I am shouting louder than ever for some innovation in the dairy industry. Yes, I am still sat on the Co-Op/Tesco fence, but the fence needs propping up, and quickly.

I have just sold today wheat for 18 months ahead. It is more than 10 per cent higher than what I can get today and I know my inputs will be lower for the next cropping year. To do the same for my dairy would also add a bit of stability, but as a farmer it’s difficult to do. As I budget for the next year, it is more and more difficult to keep cutting back on costs.

The currency is hitting hard, but the impending fertiliser price announcement for next year of below £200/tonne will help; sorry, I was dreaming again.


Rodney Down, Somerset

Rodney Down farms with his wife Claire at Higher Wrantage Farm, Taunton, Somerset, with 125ha (307 acres) on a farm business tenancy and a further 323ha (800 acres) rented and contract farmed. He milks 300 Holstein Friesians and runs 350 beef cattle and followers. The farm includes 180ha (445 acres) feed wheat and 61ha (150 acres) of maize.

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