Rising costs – are you sure you can do nothing about it?

May 25, 2022

Farming for many is about finding the best way to overcome the constant challenges nature and the outside world throw at us.

While the weather is always changing and challenging us, farmers know it will eventually change and provide the sunshine or the rain necessary to grow the crop and get on with the work required.

The current challenge is the increasing cost of inputs and is one of the most serious challenges the industry has been faced with in recent years. Most of the factors which influence input costs are outside the farmers control and thus the pressure is intense.

There is some respite in the improved output prices for milk, beef and lamb, but budget predictions show that current prices are not yet covering all of the increases in input costs.

CAFRE along with Rural Support, AFBI and Agrisearch held a series of 8 meetings at 4 venues last week to highlight the actions that farmers can take within the farm gate to mitigate the effects of rising input costs.  This article summarises the key messages from the events.

Fodder Budgeting.

The earlier a winter fodder budget can be completed the more options will be available to address any issues. Look at the stock you plan to keep over winter, how much silage you can make and then decide what to do. If the budget shows that you may be short of silage there is still time to sow some extra fertiliser and spread slurry effectively to grow more grass for silage. If this isn’t possible, then identifying underperforming breeding stock and culling earlier, or selling animals earlier as stores rather than beef may be reasonable options to consider.

There is also the possibility that your calculations may show you will have an excess of forage which can be sold as a cash crop. Managing the sale of this to control potential overdraft issues may be a useful option.

Growing and using as much grass as possible.

An AFBI analysis of the economics of fertiliser application to grow grass as a feed compared to alternative sources of nutrition confirms that even at prices approaching £1000 per tonne for fertiliser, grazed grass is still the cheapest source of nutrients for ruminant animals. Growing grass and making quality silage continues to be the best way to control production costs.

Properly planned nutrient management, taking pH and Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K) indices into account will maximise grass growth. AFBI have shown that the response to applied fertiliser varies during the season, so taking account of this can help maximise growth. Balancing grazing and conservation of any surpluses will make best use of the grass grown.

The simplest way to make better use of grass is to manage grazing more effectively. Introducing rotational grazing has the potential to improve utilisation of grass grown from 50% to 80%. Being able to utilise grass more effectively will allow you to balance reducing fertiliser input and maintaining stocking rate. The most effective way is to have a paddock system in place, but even a simple field by field rotation system can significantly improve utilisation. Investment in fencing, especially electric fencing, will pay dividends.

Longer term use of clover and multispecies swards.

Research by both AFBI and Teagasc has shown clearly that well managed clover based swards can produce as much forage as swards receiving significant amounts of applied nitrogen fertiliser. While it may be too late to contribute to cost reduction this season, planning to have more clover in reseeded swards or to stitch some clover into existing swards can make a contribution to reducing costs in the medium term.

While the full body of evidence to support use of multispecies swards is not yet available, the indications from current and ongoing research are that they will contribute to reduced costs and improved animal performance in well managed grazing systems. The European Innovation Project team looking at MSS is hosting an open day at Paul, Frank and Thomas Turley’s farm on 13th June where more detail on how MSS can be used on farms will be discussed.

Don’t neglect cashflow and business issues.

Increased costs and increased output prices both have an impact on cashflow in any business. What will the impact be on your business and do you need to do anything about that? The only way to answer this is to complete a cashflow budget for your farm and discuss this with your bank manager. Make a plan and take action!

Look after yourself and your neighbours.

For lots of people facing difficult situations on farms, it can feel like no-one knows or cares about what is going on with you. In reality this is never the case, especially with organisations such as Rural Support available to offer farmers practical support through physical health, mental health, family and financial issues affecting the farm business. If you are affected, please speak to someone. If you know of a friend or neighbour who needs help, ask them if you can refer them confidentially to Rural Support for help from a range of trained specialists who provide effective, confidential support to people who are struggling to cope. More information is available at www.ruralsupport.org.uk or phone the confidential support line 0800 138 1678.

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