Thursday, 27 October 2011

UK Planning Reform Outrageous! UK Farming Land Not Fully Valued??

Before the end of October the world will have more than 7 Billion people. Each day the total population grows an extra 200,000. Each year an extra 80million! This is a major issue & there are serious questions about whether there will be sufficient food available. There is precious little good quality soil available for cropping & already energy crops are competing for available land area with food production. Another really difficult concern is the availability of good quality fresh water. Agriculture is already the major user of water & in some countries the water table has fallen dramatically partly due to climate change & partly due to excessive draw off for crops.
In the UK we are unbelievably blessed with excellent soils & a kind weather pattern that normally delivers adequate rain most of the year. Compared to the rest of the world the UK is in an amazing position for food production. 
Having recently visited Utah & Arizona which are mainly alpine deserts, California which has a very serious shortage of water & Australia where the vast area of the Centre Red has neither the soils nor the climate for highly productive agriculture….you start to realise how fortunate we are here in Britain.
Do the British really understand that favoured position or really appreciate our good luck in having such precious productive soil? Do the British appreciate the value & massive wealth we have within the topsoil…’s called Soil Organic Matter. Does the Government or Cabinet in any way indicate policies that encourage agriculture? Why isn’t agriculture leading the economic recovery because our farmers are certainly capable of an export food driven recovery? In fact if you look at the world we in Britain have a responsibility to help feed the world’s population.
Instead of positive export driven policies we have ridiculous changes to planning laws being proposed to “boost development & ramp up the housing industry”???? I have no qualms with making planning simpler but to have a “presumption of development” & to allow further development of Greenfield sites is both absurd & outrageous! Why in a country with incredible food production potential (with a world population short of food) does any government, not only allow further housing but encourage it beggars belief.
Why is there not an insistence that the inner cities be built up & not out? Cities like Cardiff & Melbourne, Australia have very successfully revitalised the CBD by bringing high rise apartments back into the central city. Neither UK nor the world can allow “extremely productive agricultural land” to be buried under housing.
Throughout the UK the developers are already sitting on undeveloped land banks. With the current Euro crisis there is every chance of a house price crash….so why push through reforms that will create more housing on Greenfield sites??
The Government says there are adequate safeguards to protect valued sites & sustainable housing. This is absolute rubbish. 
In our village a new development has been pushed through planning even though the village was totally against what was being proposed. The local council was terrified of the possible legal costs if the planning was not approved. So what are the safeguards?
What I can not understand is that the proposed changes are supported by the NFU. Why on earth would the National Farmers Union support reforms that will put housing on top of our precious agricultural land. Every pasture based dairy farmer tries to fully utilise his or her farm to its potential for annual pasture growth & grazing by dairy cows.
I think the topsoil in UK farm soils is an incredible asset that must be protected. As a country we already import far too much food & we are one of the biggest net importers of water (most of which is virtual water). I ask you, what do you think?
 Current UK Pasture Measurements 
Pasture growth Slowing dramatically as soil temps fall & daylight hours reduce. Some long awaited rain in Midlands but too late.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Hereford AFC 2310, growth 23, demand 25, grazed 46% of farm since 1st Oct
Dorset, AFC 2270, Growth 20
Hereford, Well Done the ABs!
Ireland, Great match. Well Done ABs!
Brittany, France, It's a theft! So Close.
Brittany, France, Un match magnifique!
Taranaki NZ, Exhausted watching...shouldnt have been but good result!
Waikato, NZ, Bit too close for comfort very lucky to win.

Friday, 21 October 2011

My New Hero Kenyan Farmer Kimani Maruge! It's never to late to learn.

It’s been an amazing week! What with the Rugby World Cup. I am very proud to be a New Zealander & to see the fantastic rugby the All Blacks play. A very interesting week on UK pasture based dairy farms too.
This week I watched an amazing DVD called “First Grader” an award winning 2011 film about the Kenyan hero “Kimani Maruge”.
 Kimani Maruge (a farmer) was a 1950’s Mau Mau veteran who arrived at a tiny rural primary school as an 84 year old man determined to get an education after the Kenyan government offered “free education for all”. Kimani holds the record as the oldest person ever to start primary school. His determination to get an education was truly inspirational.
I doubt many people outside of Kenya have ever heard of Kimani Maruge. What a guy, what a hero. What a farmer! I doubt many people have ever heard of his Primary School Teacher Jane Obinchu either but what a gutsy lady, what an inspiration!
Watching the film First Grader made me think about several very important issues regarding Dairyfarmer education.
  1. We don’t know how lucky we really are in this country…we have all had an opportunity of a good education. I wonder if we really value that opportunity?
  2. Education continues all our life. Adult self directed learning is continuous & under our control. It’s up to us….”If it’s going to be it’s up to me”.
  3. During this past week I watched as pasture based dairy farmers learnt from each other, where information & experience was freely given & willingly accepted. I watched the young & inexperienced learn from the experienced & wise. However I also witnessed the older willingly learn from the young. It was a privilege to watch such an amazing process.
Pasture based dairy farmers in the UK are incredibly active adult learners & the on farm changes that have occurred in the past decade are quite extraordinary. The efficiency gains are pushing biological boundaries of what is physically possible in agriculture. Sadly this green revolution has been largely  unnoticed nor acknowledged in the UK. However countless pasture based dairy farmers who have embraced change are now in a really strong position as Sustainable Farming Businesses.
I want to tell you about my week of learning with farmers.
I joined the Realfarmers Discussion Group in Dorset meeting at a farm which is “on a journey” or at the beginning of the journey. Currently there are no tracks & the calving blocks are at the early stages of being sorted. The first cross bred cows are entering the herd. Mark & his father were keen to meet with the group as they are hungry for ideas. Mark played a star role in a recent video about pasture based dairy farming.
I greatly admired Mark’s dad Charlie….he is encouraging & guiding his son into this new system of which there are plenty of distracters & “non believers”. That really takes courage & foresight, but there he was this week listening intently to a group of young herdsman.
Each one of us has an idea of what permanent pasture is & looks like. However I had that (my) concept severely tested when I visited one of Oxford University’s farms on the outskirts of Oxford city. FAI is the tenant and we were inspecting the pastures on this farm set up to run as a Sustainable Farming system.
FAI Farms has a concept of the 3e’s of sustainability. The 3e’s are Environment, Economics, & Ethical Strategies which include animal welfare & social sustainability. All went well on our farm walk until I was confronted with permanent pastures that are at least a 1000 yrs old. Alison McDonald the pasture ecologist explained that these flood meadows have not ever been ploughed. Oxford University historical records show no record of ploughing. It was intriguing …in a square metre there would have been maybe 30 different “pasture” species none of which I have ever seen before.
The field that is known as "Pixey Mead" is cut each year for hay in July then grazed between August & October in an attempt to replicate “Common land” grazing management prior to enclosure in England.
We ventured onto “Wolvercote Meadows” which is partly within the city boundaries of Oxford. The last time these “permanent pastures” were cut for hay was in 1642 when King Charles 1 needed feed for his horses during the English Civil war.
Alison was very definite about the date of the last hay cut as records show that his men refused to cut the hay the next year because they hadn’t been paid for the first year’s haymaking. Something’s in the rural community don’t change do they??
I was very privileged to join a Seasoned Cookery course run by chef Jeff Thomas & Seasoned entrepreneur Clare Tetley. The cookery course was about cooking “Under Utilized Cuts of Meat”. What a brilliant idea! In the UK we waste so much of carcass because we simply don’t know how to cook this meat. What a shameful waste of protein. Usually it’s a simple matter of doing a slow cook rather than a fast fry up. I’m talking about cuts like pig’s cheek, pork belly, Lamb neck fillets & Onglette or skirt fillets of beef. Wonderful cuts of meat that cooked well are so tasty. Again at this day there were the young & the slightly older teaching each other the skills & enjoyment of cooking good quality meat. A great day…close to heaven I’d say!
Clare also runs a grass fed beef day where participants learn about Andrew Sebire’s organic grass fed beef at Lower Hurst Farm.
One of the dishes we learnt about from Chef Jeff Thomas was Staffordshire Veal Sausages. This was rose veal that was reared on a pasture based dairy farm to utilize the male calves born in a spring block calving system. No dairy farmer likes disposing of these animals & again what a shameful waste of protein. Rose veal is not in any way similar to white veal but for quite stupid reasons in the UK veal is really difficult to purchase. Why? Why do we allow this ignorance to interfere with the production of healthy grass fed beef? Partly responsible is the press including the BBC which won’t allow veal recipes to be used in the various cooking programs like Master chef. The supermarkets are partly to blame as well. Whereas the Soil Association & McDonalds should be congratulated on their efforts, to get Rose Veal back on our dining tables.
Let’s start a grass fed Rose Veal Campaign!
Research shows that farmers are very active adult learners. Farmers learn from other farmers very effectively. We have two huge advantages over my new hero Kimani Maruge..1. We all had good basic educations that included reading & writing. We are so very lucky! 2. The UK pasture based dairy farmers have a wonderful network of pasture based dairy farmers many of whom farm in different countries around the world & with the internet & smart phones we can not only talk to each other but learn from each other. What a privilege education really is. We are so very lucky!
What a true hero, Kenyan farmer Kimani Maruge was!

Current UK Pasture Measurements
Pasture growth has slowed dramatically all over the UK due to colder temperatures. Grazing conditions very good.
Rugby on Sunday will be seriously good. Good luck to my French friends I think you will need all the luck to pull this off. C'Mon the All Blacks.
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)

Cumbria, AFC 2475, growth 20,
North Wales, 2400, gr 35 demand 40, excellent autumn conditions, cant believe RWC  last Saturday???
Shropshire, 1780, gr 15, de 10 no significant rain only 10mm this month
Hereford, 2316, growth 26, demand 25, grazed 36% of farm since 1st Oct
Gloucestershire, AFC 2465, growth 50
SW Wales, AFC 2898, growth 28, demand 38.
Pembrokeshire, AFC 2580, gr 45, demand 36,
Devon, 2800, growth 40,
Dorset, 2689, gr 37, grazing 4200, residuals 1400 not feeding silage.
Dorset, AFC 2400, growth 10, Start feeding silage 2moro. Good luck for RWC.
East Sussex, AFC 1900, growth 15.
Cornwall, AFC 2760, growth 45, demand 38,   200T of Fodder Beet for sale

Friday, 14 October 2011

Dairy Farm Profitability....All Fur Coats & No Knickers

Pasture based dairy farms are some of the most profitable farms in Europe. Profitability is a key component to any farming system. A farm has to be profitable to be sustainable. The low input systems & tight cost control makes these farms very sustainable & resilient to downturns in the market. What downturns you may ask? We are enjoying good times at the moment with buoyant milk prices & a relatively strong international market.
We have to be sure these profits are real & that the profitability measures are meaningful. If its not then its "All Fur Coats & NO Knickers"
I raise the issue about profitability for a number of reasons.
1. Europe faces a very risky economic future with a risk of a major crash which will inevitably affect dairy farmers.
2. Proposed EU CAP reforms (2014-2020) highlight a possible reduction in Single Farm Payments of 30-50% (compared to the direct payments of today) with some as yet unknown “green” payments also being available to those farms who implement environmental schemes.
3. I’m not convinced Pasture based dairy farm Discussion Groups are comparing the right “Profitability key performance Indicators”.
Europe in Crisis.
For weeks now we have read & seen on TV, clear indication that the PIIGS are in deep trouble. The debt of these countries is truly mind bloggling! (Gross understatement) & equally frightening is Europe’s apparent inability to deal with the crisis. Logic says that this can’t continue & that all hell is about to breakout. We now have magazines like Money Week warning investors to reduce personal debt, to get out of the housing market, to get out of much of the FTSE & to be very wary of Government Bonds as an investment. When these warnings are about its time to take cover & build resilience into your farm business.
EU CAP Reform (2014-2020).
The UK through Defra has been calling for radical changes in the scheduled CAP reforms.  The possible reforms announced this week….which will be much debated & maybe watered down still suggest a major reduction in the direct SFP payment to farmers from 2014 onward.
Although the overall reform won’t enhance the competitiveness of EU farmers it does seem to me that the suggested changes will be welcomed by pasture based dairy farmers. Firstly we are less dependent on the SFP for cashflow….many less profitable farms seem to be almost totally dependent. Secondly I believe that it will increase the opportunities for expansion as other farmers leave the industry. Thirdly it will hopefully reward the pasture based dairy farmers who are already taking significant steps to enhance the farm environment. However there is a very big BUT. You must be profitable & have a strong cashflow even in uncertain times.
£ Profit per hectare or per litre????(Not enough)
Farm business profitability comes from the “Farm Business” (eg milk) & from gains in the “Farm Property Business”.
The introduction of the "Business Scoreboard" & the willingness of Discussion Groups to openly share financial information are major factors leading to more highly profitable dairy farm businesses. If you don’t measure “it” you can neither control “it” nor improve “it”. By recording & being prepared for open analysis by fellow Discussion Group members each farm is well on the road to sustained improvement. However we must be comparing the right Business “Key Performance Indicators”. The Comparative Farm Profit (CFP) analysis was a giant step forward from nonsense metrics like Margin over feed costs. However Profit per Hectare or per Litre could be very misleading. Sure the farm business profit is a very important driver & yes the profit per hectare is more important than litres per cow, BUT its time to move on & concentrate on 3 other more important metrics (KPIs). Especially if we are either expanding our businesses or we are about to face very uncertain times including credit restrictions.
Prof. Nicola Shadbolt from Massey University & the NZ Dairybase has clearly set these out a number of times.
Special care needs to be taken during expansion & when you are trying to increase output not to have excessive capital spending.
The huge risk in a downturn is liquidity ……lack of available cash or a weak cashflow. Businesses need a strong cashflow. On the “Business Scoreboard” this is on the dreaded Page 2. FARM CASH SURPLUS is a vital KPI which most Discussion Groups ignore to their peril. Some farms have a positive CFP (Profit/ha or per litre) but a negative Farm Cash Surplus. This is a very risky position to be in. Often it is caused by a Profit/ha being inflated by non cash items like “Inventory Change” i.e. herd expansion. A dairy farm business must be in a strong cash position. As Christchurch based Accountant Peta Alexander must have told a thousand farmer audiences “Cash is king”.
Secondly we need to monitor very closely our Return on Equity (ROE) & equally the Return on Capital (ROC). Farm Businesses should be trying to maximize equity growth through sustainable profitability.
“A dairy farmer with money in his pockets (it’s always “His”/male) is a very dangerous beast”. The real risk is that as a business expands excessive capital is spent which could result in poor profits. The real breakthrough in the UK was having a very simple low cost system that had a low capital base. If the ROE & the ROC are not monitored & compared annually the risks are huge especially in uncertain times. You & your Discussion Group need to track both ROE & ROC very closely & learn from the businesses with the best business performance. 
Little will be gained by groups now doing CFPs only! Groups will spend time endless looking for the invisible. 
The Group League Table will tell us that the same farmers year after year are at the top. Its way over due that we look deeper into “Farm Cash Surplus”, ROE & ROC………all of which are seriously affected by the numbers that go into the cfp analysis. The secrets lie on PAGE TWO of the Business Scoreboard. To date Discussion Groups have not ventured to the core issue. If you don't use the best metric (KPIs) then it could be "All Fur Coats & NO Knickers"

Current UK Pasture Measurements 
Pasture growth still very different across country based on rain, temperatures & which nation you follow in Rugby.
Huge thank you to those farmers who offered feed to the farmers in drought stricken Midlands where it is still very dry.

Congratulations to Gavin & his family in North Devon on winning FW Dairy Farmer of Year Award. Well done! 

I must apologise for the lack of English data this week...apparently they are in hiding......The Welsh farmers have found full voice......surprised I haven't heard from my French mates 
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
Northern Ireland,AFC 2515, growth 63, demand 40, very warm & wet. Thought rugby ended last weekend!
Nth Wales, 2400, growth 42, demand 40, Can't concentrate on farming. Go Wales! Bring the RWC home.
Gloucestershire, 2590, growth 60
Hereford, 2100, gr 25, Total de 45, grass demand 20, Very dry. Am now claiming to be Welsh!....ex English supporter!
Hereford, 2217, gr 20, de 22, Wales for RWC! Go Wales!
Hereford, 2392, gr 37, de 25, following planner well.
South West Wales, 2992, gr 56, demand 37
Cornwall, 2680, gr 75, de 50 Was supporting Ireland in NZ....ex English supporter!
Ireland, Limerick, AFC 2900, growth 48, demand 42, 2kg feed
Northern Germany organic, AFC 1930, growth 20, demand 25, had 2nd frost growth will slow. Great rugby weekend coming up...Go the ABs!

Friday, 7 October 2011

"Talking".. From County Shows to.... Facebook, Twitter & Mobile Phones

Steve Jobs death this week is a sad loss to the world.
 “Super Inventor & Innovator” Steve Jobs from Apple created massive change which will effect everyone & led a blistering pace of innovation in communications. What an inspiration.Watch this amazing speech
In rural workplaces we are all witness to some amazing changes in communications between farmers & people in general. It’s happening faster than some of us like & it’s relentless. Steve Jobs has played a big hand in that change & I suspect his influence hasn’t yet been fully realized.
In the last decade dairy farmer numbers in the UK have more than halved. Fewer sons or daughters are taking over the family farms. The number of people working in rural UK has dropped dramatically too. So many of our countryside institutions & annual events are struggling to survive e.g. like the livestock markets, the county shows & ploughing matches. These events rely heavily on a core group of dedicated older people to organize & they struggle to get both participants & a fee paying crowd. For centuries this is where farmers met & talked to each other, sharing information. Should we lament this change or accept that it has changed forever?
Sons used to learn their farming trade & skills from fathers or grandfathers. 
That rarely happens now as young people are encouraged to go off to University or College. Their return often creates tension & communication is difficult between the generations. Young married couples on farms have new challenges in communications which can be very difficult especially for young women who don’t have a farming background.
Farming families often have communication issues just because the workplace is the home & the living space.
People say but why cant we just talk to other people?? 
We need to acknowledge that there are difficulties & our talking isn’t always a very effective way of communicating, sometimes very sadly with tragic outcomes.
When we speak to one another the actual words account for less than thirty % of the communication message…..our tone, our emphasis, our body language convey far more than the words alone. Women are usually far better at communication than men. In fact men in general are pretty awful communicators. Ask any woman if you don’t believe me! One of reasons is that women in general are better at talking out issues whereas men retreat to their caves. Women often use much more flamboyant hand movements to assist in getting the message over successfully. 
Now it’s an age of “Steve Jobs driven” technology. In Ireland in 2009 there were 10 billion SMS text messages sent, an increase of 180% over 2004. In 2004 65% of Irish farmers had internet access by 2010 it was 96%.
The big trends for the next five years are forecasted to be a move to mobiles (from PCs), more social media & an increase in the use of the “cloud” (sharing & storing information & data in cyber space)
Increasingly social media is here to stay. Social media is likely to replace most emails & phone calls. Facebook has currently got 800 million users. Scary stuff…..not really! However we will be faced with ever changing change.This will be challenging especially to new comers. 
400 pasture based dairy farmers & their advisers in the UK (& 6 other countries) are regular users of Facebook. There are a number of online Facebook Discussion Groups for pasture based dairy farmers. The Facebook technology is very good for private online discussions. Will it replace face to face in the paddock Discussion Groups….probably not but the two work very effectively together. What the internet has allowed is for farmers from different counties & different countries who share a common interest to effectively “talk to each other regularly”. I suspect as Facebook updates we will soon have regular video discussions.
Women are greater users of social media than men. Women are the early adopters of social media & social networking.
“Twitter” is another amazing internet phenomenon.
Yet to be used by many farmers but could have a major role as twitter posts are helping to bridge the urban – rural divide. Each message is restricted to 140 characters or less.
I think every farmer has a responsibility to become an advocate for his/her farm, the farm staff, his/her farming industry & his/her food that is produced by the farm. Dairy farmers in the USA seem much better at this than we are but there’s a lot we can learn from them.
Twitter is also seeing the evolution of online weekly chats by farmers e.g. & the Australian version!/AgChatOZ
Phones & social media are connecting eaters to the sources/producers of food. As women make over 90% of the household purchasing decisions (especially groceries) the way to connect with consumers will increasingly be via social media. This is a fantastic opportunity that every farmer can contribute to in a positive way. We don’t want to hand this responsibility to someone else (like DairyUK for example)…..that’s a huge risk! Farm business needs to be on the same channels as trading partners & customers/consumers.
One of Steve Jobs legacy will be the move from office based computers to mobile phones. Mobile phones have become powerful computers that are carried in handbags, pockets, cars & tractors. Increasingly farmers are using their phones to access the internet & social media. Twelve months ago virtually 100% of people accessing this blog online were doing so from desk computers. Today the readers come from over 60 countries & approx 20% are accessing the blog from mobile phones. This is a massive change & one that is likely to accelerate. I want pasture based dairy farmers to be at the forefront & to be early adopters of new technology.
Are pasture based dairy farmers using “cloud technology”…..yes they are! Discussion groups are using Agrinet for pasture wedge graphs & sharing this information within their Discussion Groups.  
The Irish based company is also utilizing YouTube to help train users of the pasture wedge graphs & pasture budgets.
The need for technology will increase around the use of grazed grass. Web based tools that allow dairy farmers to communicate with one another; the milk processor, the marts, cattle breeding companies etc. will facilitate increased efficiency at farm level.
Dairy farm users of  for file & data sharing are effectively using “cloud type technology”
Pasture Promise TV
This week we saw the launch of PasturePromise internet TV. High quality videos on pasture management & grassfed milk. It stars NOT Tom Cruise NOR Tom Jones but our very own Tom Malleson & Mark Read from Dorset. Well done guys!
Steve Jobs sad passing won’t slow the blistering pace of change in communications. Pasture based dairy farmers need grab the new technologies with both hands. Yes we will have to learn to adapt to constant change but the opportunities are too great to turn our backs & say it’s all too difficult. Keep up or step aside!
Current UK Pasture Measurements
Cold change no good for pasture growth. Rainfall very hit & miss
TheAverage Pasture Cover (kgsDM/ha) & Pasture Growth (kgsDM/ha/day)
South Ayreshire, Scotland, AFC 2337, growth 15, demand 18kgs DM
Cumbria, AFC 2575, growth27, demand 22
Cheshire organic, 1750, gr 15, demand 27 grazing rotation 50 days
Shropshire, 2318, gr26, cows drinking alot but no limitation
Herefordshire, 2322, gr 24, de 25, following autumn planner 60% in 30 days
Oxfordshire, 2100, gr 20, de 20
Gloucestershire, 2640, gr 84, de 50, Peak growth rate of year.
Somerset, 2750, gr 65 quality not so good with high covers, growth will fall cos of low temps
Dorset, 2678, gr 50,
Dorset, 2700, gr 35, de 38, See you in RWC Semi finals
East Sussex, 2000, gr 20, RWC easier to watch now as only 49 cows to calve
North Devon, 2900, gr 50, rotation 50 days
Cornwall, AFC 2650, gr 53, de 39, cut 10% of milking platform last week, 3200 covers, 1800 residuals