Dairy Farmers Discuss Challenges of High Costs for Machinery

Machinery costs were under the spotlight at a recent Climate Change Focus Farm meeting organised by SAC Consulting, a Division of Scotland’s Rural College.
Held at the Auchincruive Estate in Ayrshire, the meeting – entitled ‘Making Big Decisions –
focused on how farmers could adapt to recent drops in the milk price and many farmers present spoke about the financial difficulties they faced, especially with regards to machinery.
SAC Consultant Robert Ramsay said: “Machinery costs are an issue not just in the context of trimming production costs, but also as part of potentially bigger changes within a business such as the decision to mothball a dairy for a period, or move away from milk altogether.”
Many of the farmers present had already started to significantly reduce energy and machinery costs by moving to simpler systems. One member of the group explained that he felt it would not be a huge loss for him to stop using a TMR (total mixed ration – where the forage and concentrates are mixed together before feeding) as he felt that on his system this was unlikely to cause any significant reduction in output but meant he saved the depreciation and running costs of both the mixer wagon and, potentially, the tractor which powers it.
As well as machinery costs there was also discussion about management of youngstock and replacements. Several farmers were operating ‘flying herds’ whereby all replacement cows are bought in as calved cows or heifers. This has the potential to improve efficiency as the business can concentrate resources such as land, buildings, labour and capital on the milking herd. Currently the price of these replacement dairy heifers is frequently less than the cost to rear a homebred animal so the strategy appears to present an opportunity to make cost savings and free up capital.
Robert Ramsay noted: “There is an awareness that buying in replacements could potentially bring disease onto the farm, and where cattle are imported from out with Scotland the risk of movement restrictions associated with TB. When you operate a flying herd, the potential cost benefit could be negated by an increase in vet and medicine costs.”
More meetings are planned for the group, with another meeting at Auchincruive on 25 February 2016 where the focus will be on managing soil nutrients to reduce fertiliser costs, and a visit to SRUC’s Barony Farm on 8 March 2016 to see the efficiency measures that have been implemented in the last 12 months and how the farm is preparing for spring.
SRUC Dairy Specialist David Keiley believes that these meetings are a great opportunity for farmers to learn from each other. He said: “A problem shared is a problem halved – everyone in the group contributed something to the meeting and took home some ideas they could apply to their unit. Farmers were able to focus on efficiency measures within their own business which would make a difference to their bottom line.”
The meeting was held as part of the Farming for a Better Climate initiative, funded by the Scottish Government. Farmers interested in attending the meetings in the future should contact Robert Ramsay on 01292 525252 or see www.farmingforabetterclimate.org.

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