Friday, 27 May 2011

Dairyfarmers can produce a Green Dairy Industry

The Dairy Industry has the potential to produce its own electricity & be clear of the National Grid. What a PR victory that will be for the first UK dairy company & their suppliers. What a wonderful image that will be for milk, cheese & butter! Every dairy farmer must get involved to “kick this goal” for the dairy industry. We have a fantastic opportunity right now with interest free loans & massive incentives thru the Feed in Tariffs for on farm generation. Each dairy farm has the potential to generate more than they consume in the milking parlour plus the surplus could effectively be claimed by the milk processor for the good of milk (even though in reality the producer gets paid for surplus sales into the grid). Let’s look at wind! Gavin in North Devon has installed two 11Kw Gaia wind turbines – i.e. they will produce 11Kw per hour in ideal wind. His farm site has an average wind speed of 5.7metres per second – not very windy but he does get a little wind on most days – it is also clean wind from all directions. The Gaia turbine is designed to start at low wind speeds ( 3 m/s – most others need 5 before they start producing ) and has a fixed rotor speed making it fairly quiet – which is why he chose that type of turbine. The Turbines were predicted (at av. 5.7m/sec) to produce 32,000 Kilowatts each in the year. In 10 months the average daily production has been 90 Kw per turbine giving a predicted yield of 32,850 – as long as the wind blows for the next two months. With a production of 65,000 (current annual consumption is approx 55,000kwh)the income should be £17,000 from the Feed in Tariffs and the sale of electricity (paid for half of what I produce). With a saving of not buying 30,000 units at 8p gives a saving of £2,400. So £19,400 annual gain (the Feed in Tariffs are also index linked and guaranteed for 20 years for wind) from a £100,000 total cost gives a very healthy return on investment.Pay back period is close to 5 years & the turbines are generating 120% of farm consumption. Behind the new Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) is the drive to reduce UK carbon emissions in order to bring them into line with European standards. The Government aim to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2050 and the current projection is that by 2020 almost half of the electricity used in the UK will be from low carbon sources. In order to reach these targets the Government is relying on residential & small business owners to switch to renewable energy and help eliminate the carbon footprint. At the heart of the scheme is a tariff of 26.7p/unit for all renewable electricity generated from small wind turbines in the 1.5-15kW range. This incentive replaces the carbon credit (ROC) scheme for small wind turbines. If you install a small wind turbine will now benefit from the feed in tariff in three ways: lower energy bills, payments from electricity you feed back into the grid, & further payment from the FIT for all the energy you generate & either use yourself or feed back to the grid.
The challenge on all dairy farms is not about “can the farm generate more energy than is consumed” but rather “how to deal with the peak loadings of the twice daily milking”. There are several options- first is to store the energy generated either in batteries or in say hot water or ice. The technology for batteries is not yet efficient enough but it’s an area of intense worldwide research.
The obvious solution is to reduce peak demand. First you should be installing a Smart meter to monitor existing power consumption. Ask your electricity supplier
Next you need to investigate the technologies that are already being used successfully by other dairy farmers eg Varivac systems. Every parlour is different but generally with the oil vane type pumps that are predominant in the UK, savings are around 75% of power usage on the pumps themselves, generally the savings are around 40% over the whole parlour electricity cost. Varivac have single phase models to cover the whole range so really any parlour can have a Varivac now.
Heat Recovery technology is being used successfully in many pasture based dairyfarms in the UK. Gavin in North Devon has installed Varivac & Heat Recovery units & reduced total farm demand by approx 20%. The next challenge is to install "smart technology" that allows the switching on & off of equipment when he can make full use of the wind. Tim in Shropshire has installed a heat recovery unit, solar water heating & Varivac systems. He has seen on his smart meter similar total farm saving. The Smart meter graph shows when the energy saving devices were installed.You can see the impact of the very cold weather last December when heating & hot water effectively doubled demand during milking. So it's up to you which generation option you chose but you also need to deal with reducing peak demand. See the blog I wrote on the 15th October 2010.Seek out the interest free loans

. Current UK Pasture Measurements

Mixed rainfall, most areas in the UK still dry, Wales coast good rain & growth. Cold temperatures & drying winds depressing effect of recent rain. SE England very dry & struggling for pasture.

TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire, AFC 2349,Growth =Demand 68kgs, soil temp 9.9degrees C

Derbyshire, 2365, growth 80kgsDM/ha/day, Demand 64

Herefordshire, 2150, growth 55, Demand 60

Gloucestershire, 2073, growth 51, demand 50 Getting very dry

Pembrokeshire, 2041, growth 61, wedge has hole will feed silage

Sussex Organic, AFC 1481,growth 11kgs, Drying off early really need rain

East Sussex, 1900, growth 30, desparate for rain

North Devon, AFC 2350, 65kgs, some rain some recovery from dry

Limerick, Ireland, 2250, growth 70kgs

Fish Creek, Gippsland Victoria Australia (autumn) AFC 2550, growth 38, AFC increasing, unusually wet last of spring calvers being dried off.

It maybe of interest to you that this blog has been read by people in 58 different countries this month ...a truely international audience!

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Photovoltaic Energy Neutral Grass Based Dairy Farms

Two grass based dairy farmers in the Pasture to Profit Network(one in Herefordshire & the other in Brittany, France) have or are about to achieve “Energy Neutral” status (with regard to electricity use on farm). Both have installed solar panels on their farm shed roofs.
Energy neutral status is where 100% of the energy that is consumed is actually generated by the farmer user. To become self sufficient or completely clear of the National Grid should be the goal of every farmer. Ideally the dairy industry should be able to produce its own electricity. Now the goal changes to “Energy Neutral chain of production with 100% of the energy that is consumed by the different links in the chain must be generated within the chain itself.” Dairy farmers will become the key players as they have the ability to generate energy from solar & wind turbines. In the Netherlands there is a National goal of 20% of the energy use being sustainable energy by 2020. Currently it is approx 3.5%. The farmers in the Netherlands are at about 8% sustainable energy.
Matthew in Herefordshire & his landlord have recently installed (2nd May) Photovoltaic panels capable of 48Kw peak system. There are 230 panels each of 212w. These are on south facing roofs. The photovoltaic system has an expected 25 yr life with a small reduction in efficiency over that time. To date he has generated more electricity than he has consumed at the milking parlour. (2534kwh produced & 2304kwh consumed).There is a long term guaranteed contract for the feed in tariff currently approx 32p/kwh which is inflation indexed. His current cost of National grid electricity is 10.86/day & 6.22/night. There is an approx 10 year payback on current prices but rapid inflation of energy prices should substantially reduce the payback period.
However I think the key component of Matthew’s system is the Smart Meter which measures & allows monitoring of power consumption. This was installed 3 yrs ago by his power provider.
By checking his electricity consumption online he can view his daily, weekly, monthly use patterns. “Merely measuring something has an uncanny tendency to improve it” Paul Graham. What Matthew has discovered is that although he is generating more than he is consuming he is NOT completely clear of the grid. The reason is that dairy farms have two peak consumption periods each day. These peaks are currently beyond the generating capacity of the solar panels. The next obvious step is to look at reducing peak demand.

Alain & Odile, pasture based dairy farmers in Brittany have also installed a photovoltaic system. Their system is calculated to annually generate approx 56,010kwh whereas the annual consumption is approx 30,000kwh. Current charges are 8.4cEuro/day & 5.45cEuro/night with a Feed in Tariff of 60cEuro for 20 years. In France interest is chargeable on the loans for these systems whereas in the UK there are interest free options. The calculations for Alain & Odile’s installation suggest that during the summer months the photovoltaics will generate far more electricity than is consumed but that could be reversed during winter. The payback period is calculated at 12 years on current prices not counting the saved National grid costs. It looks a very good investment for a dairy farmer to make.
The challenge on both farms will be to reduce peak daily demand during each milking.

I urge every dairy farmer to install a Smart Meter so that you can come to grips with your energy useage patterns.
The onfarm initiatives & innovation of both these farmers is very exciting & I congratulate you both.

Current UK Pasture Measurements
The Welcome Rain of last week now seems a distant memory as this week has seen no rain but drying winds. Most grass based dairy farms are drying out at an alarming rate. However the current pasture covers remain under control with longer than normal grazing rotations. There is serious concern about crops sown for outwintering & spring sown pastures.
Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire, AFC 2347, pasture growth rate 88kgs/ha/day

Derbyshire, 2220, growth 65, demand 64

Shropshire, 2269, growth 44, slowed this week cold winds no rain

Shropshire, 2300, 44, 26 day grazing comfortable despite dryness

Herefordshire, Growth 52, demand 47, Farm very dry again

Dorset, 2321, growth 56, demand 36

Devon, 2200, growth 40, 30day rotation feeding silage

Saturday, 14 May 2011

"Preparer Les Terrains de L'Avenir"...Prepare the Earth for the Future

“Preparer Les Terrains de L’Avenir”. My French friends will be amazed with my command of the french language but this is a very appropriate title for this week's blog.
“Prepare the earth for the future” is the core element of a Sustainable Farming system.

My very good friends Erwan & Laurence Le Roux, who farm in Brittany, France have recently won the “Trophee de l’agriculture durable 2011” award for the most sustainable farm in France. This is a most prestigious award & I am absolutely thrilled that these innovative & forward thinking pasture based dairy farmers have won.

You can read (using Google translate) & view a video......
& photos of the Le Roux family & their farm this spring

The UK is somewhat behind France in encouraging “Sustainable Farming” practices & to their credit the EU Integrated Farming Initiative or EISA have thought this issue thru very well
If you search the internet you do find other countries & organisations now working toward more sustainable farming practises, all taking a slightly different approach.

I think we need to interpret the EU’s EISA framework & work toward our pasture based dairy farms becoming recognised as being sustainable farm businesses using many of the benchmarking tools already developed.
The 8 main points of Sustainable Farming are:-
To have a profitable farm business not dependant on subsidies.
To manage soils for the future with less dependence on fertilizers & to build Soil Organic Matter (SOM) so increase soil carbon storage.
To reduce Energy consumption by reducing demand & generating on farm energy. To lower the Carbon Footprint of milk.
To better manage Water (conserve & reduce use), reduce pollutant losses.
To improve Dairy cow welfare, fertility & animal health.
To have a sustainable people practices.
To increase the bio diversity on the farm.
To develop long term business communication strategies not only with buyers, but with the professional support teams & the local community.
“Prepare the earth for the future” (Point 2) I think we need to rethink how we manage soils with our pasture based dairy farms. I don’t know of a single farm in the UK that has shown me a detailed soil map of the farm.
In NZ we met Shane Carroll & Nicola Shadbolt who farm in the Pohangina Valley near Palmerston North.

Shane had a very clear long term environmental plan to improve the sustainability of their farm business based on having a soil capability map. This was in our view the most forward thinking "Sustainable Farming" management practice we saw in NZ. There are many aspects of soil capability that need to be considered. However some soils are dry free draining while others are wet with poor drainage & maybe even subject to erosion. These soils should not be managed the same way especially if our goal is to increase the SOM & carbon stored within the soil.
In the UK some soils are perfect for ryegrass & white clover but others are not. Dry soils may well be better off in herbal pastures ie Chicory + clover or Plantain + White Clover without grasses. We need to move away from thinking that ryegrass/clover is our only option especially on dry soils. It may not be our best option to increase soil organic matter (SOM) either so we need to start looking outside the box.

Strawberry Clover is better suited to wet Soils

You need to start with a Farm Soil Map indicating the different soil capabilities. then develop a plan using a different approach.

Talk to me about Sustainable Farming.

Current UK Pasture Measurements

Welcome Rain in most areas 20-40mm, immediate increase in growth. However soils are still very dry & many farms have not harvested any surplus spring growth. Grazing rotations still long 30-40 days.

Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire AFC 2155, growth 62, demand 56kgs/ha/day

Dumfries, 2194, 66 growth, demand 57, cutting silage bales

Shropshire, 2300, 60 some rain this week

East Staffordshire, 1970, 39 approx 20mm rain now some growth 60-70

Hereford organic, 2114, 48, rain 46mm growth up 10kgs/day since rain

Hereford 2100, 70 growth, demand 65

Gloucestershire, 2160, 62, 22mm rain on Saturday

Gloucestershire, 2180, 85 growth

West Somerset, 2100, 50, 33mm rain but drying out again

Cornwall, 2300, 105, 32mm rain, record production STD,AI 80% in 1st 17days

Cornwall, 2398, 118

South Kilkenny, Ireland, 2075, growth 71, demand 66

Members of Wyegraze Discussion Group are all linked into Agrinet to very effectively share pasture information.....Every group should be doing this as it will help all groups

Friday, 6 May 2011

"The Foundation & Future of Every Farm is the Education of it's Youth" borrowed from Diogenes

We need to actively involve young people in our exciting industry. Young people with bright minds wont buy into our pasture based dairy farming system if we dont invite them to participate & to contribute. We need bright young people on our farms.
I also believe passionately that our top farmers have a huge wealth of experience to offer young people.
These top farmers have often been to university themselves so they understand whats required by students doing dissertations.
You just need to put these people together to create "the magic" & creative thinking goes wild, to everyones advantage.
Over the past 6 months
Harper Adams University, BSc (Honours) Degree in
Agriculture, Land and Farm Management student Lucy Williams has worked with
3 Pasture to Profit dairy farmers....Tom Malleson, John Millington & Rupert Major, on a project to see how Body Condition Score (BCS) affected dairy cow fertility in spring block calving herds. We used the NZ dairy cow condition scoring system where 1 BCS is equal to approx 35 kgs LWT. The target BCS at calving is 5.0. A cow that has a BCS of BCS 3 is considered to be very thin & below target.

The data indicated an important relationship between the BCS at calving & the BCS at Planned Start of Mating (PSM). The better the BCS at calving the better the BCS at PSM. This confirms the NZ studies by John Roche et al & the Irish studies by Frank Buckley

In this on farm study the cows lost a little over the 1 BCS post calving then regained condition (not quite calving condition) by PSM.

There were 847 cows data from the 4 farms included in the study. 80% of these cows calved in the first 6 week block indicating exceptional dairy cow fertility(heifers were not included in these figures).

In fact these cows had a 368 day calving interval (compared to the UK average of approx 425 days). Only 9% of the cows monitored were sold empty.

All 4 herds had a conception rate to first AI service of over 60% & the average number of AI services for a pregnancy was 1.5. Again this is exceptional.

Lucy talking to John & Herdsman Simon in Staffordshire.

Cows calving in the first 6 weeks & cows calving in the second 6 weeks were all very similar in the BCS at calving (average approx BCS 4.8) & the BCS 6 weeks post calving, approx BCS 3.65. So the loss of condition post calving was also very similar. There were interesting differences however between the two 6 week groups as to the average number of days from calving to conception. The cows in the first 6 week calving block took on average 79 days to conception whereas the cows in the second 6 week block took 108 days. This is effectively an extra cycle. This is interesting but we are unsure of the reasons. The cows calving in the first 6 weeks are a reflection of the success of the first 2 cycles of AI whereas the second 6 week block is likely to be partly related to the onfarm management of bulls.

"The study has reinforced the important fact that BCS at calving is the most influential factor on BCS loss between calving and pre mating (PSM)." Said Lucy in her summary.

It was brilliant to have Lucy as part of our team & she is to be congratulated on doing a great job of pulling the data from over 800 cows together as part of her study requirements. Lucy is one of 4 students who have been working with the P2P network this year from Harper Adams. (Kate looked at Lameness, Rob examined sharefarming & Ben did a survey about outwintering....well done guys) I would also like to thank Dr Liam Sinclair from Harper Adams University for his assistance & cooperation. It has been a pleasure to involve the University with our pasture based dairy farmers.

To the many international researchers from NZ, Australia, Ireland & USA your inputs & advice has been extremely helpful.

We look forward to John Alawneh's PhD study results from Massey University, NZ. John has used Walk Over Cattle Scales (along with BCS) in a similar trial.

To obtain research funding for pasture based dairying in the UK seems near impossible. However with persistence, hard work & the willingness of top farmers to "get involved" on farm research can be achieved & we can learn a great deal from our efforts. I would like to thank the P2P farmers & their On farm teams who have freely given of their time & expertise to make this project happen.

There has been many insights gained from this BCS monitoring project over the past 2 years.....only some have been mentioned here. A very useful decision making spreadsheet (especially related to Drying off decisions & timing) has been developed by Tom, John & Rupert as well.

If you are interested contact me.

The NZ Large Herds Conference for years has had a "Young Scientist Communication Award"....we need to take the next step in that direction too.

Current UK Pasture Measurements
Still no rain over most of the UK. Pasture covers have decreased & much silage ground has been grazed instead. Demand generally greater than growth this week. General increase in concs to lengthen grazing rotations. Some rain in the lucky areas!

Average Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

South Ayrshire Scotland, AFC 2157, growth 57

Nth Ireland, 1900, 30 Brown patches in fields, silage crop V poor

Cumbria, 1995, 68 need rain

Cumbria, 2330, 50 need rain

Cheshire organic 2100, 40 dry not cut silage as insurance

Nth Wales, 2000, 48 Demand 56 V dry, feeding PK to slow round

Nth Wales, 2020, 63 good rains over past 2 days, grazing conditions fantastic!

Derbyshire, 2218, growth 48 demand 59, No rain for a month, 16.5mm over past 10wks.

Shropshire, 2650, 64 Demand 68 raining now!!

Shropshire, 2280, 45 demand 47, increasing concs to 5kgs

Shropshire, 2283, 58 demand 54, bit dry

Staffordshire, 2160, 39 very dry

Staffordshire, 2400, 34 feeding higher than plating

Staffordshire, 2000, growth = demand 46, rotation 30 days

Herefordshire, 2100, 48 AFC decreasing, 5mm rain

Herefordshire org, 1964, 35 down from 54, lower covers stressed

Pembrokeshire, 2053, 48 last week 79

Pembrokeshire, 2130, 53 demand 70, "drought" got scarey but rain yesterday

West Somerset, 1950, 35 grazing silage ground increased concs

Dorset, 2358, 54 urine patches very obvious now

Dorset, 2145, growth 48, made 18ha silage hoping for rain

East Sussex, 2115, 51 No rain, cows on OAD milking yesterday

Devon, 2250, 46

I didnt ask Cornwall too depressing! Thanks guys!