Sunday 26 July 2009

Earn More Work Less a Priority

Everytime I visit Brittany France it is obvious that French Dairy Farm families set a high business priority on "Earn More Work Less ". The farms we visited were very profitable yet they as families strove for a better 'life balance & quality time' with younger family members. Time with children was very important & often stated as a Business priority within minutes of being on the host farm. I was emotionally affected & it has left a lasting impression....something to think about!!
I'm not sure family has the same priority within British dairy farming families. Given that UK dairy farms are often family units this seems odd. As British farms have become bigger it seems people work harder & longer & time with family gets lost in the long hours. Not completely universal by any means but more the norm.
I think its mainly men who miss out. The greater family responsibilities fall on the women perhaps unfairly. The days when children are small pass so quickly.....don't miss out on these precious years.
Once a day milking is one option for reducing the work hours but maintaining or even increasing income earned. This takes careful management & time to achieve but is possible. We saw OAD milking both on farm & at the farmer driven research at Travarez.
France is not the only place this year where I have experienced a strong sense of family & community. Travelling through rural Australia we got a vivid impression of the priority given to family time & doing things together as a family. This appeared to translate to a strong community spirit where the small rural populace took responsiblity for their own community & it's wellbeing. The tougher the situation the more obvious was the spirit of working together & looking after each other. I think there's a link with family values & time with family.
Have we in the DairyfarmUK lost that strong sense of family? If we have then it's terribly serious.
Around the world dairy farm families are experiencing tough times. Farmers are protesting & standing shoulder to shoulder with their fellow farmers. Is that happening here? No. Do British farmers stand together????.......its not obvious!
As grass based dairy farmers we need to stick together, learn together & support each other.
United we stand Divided we fall.

Friday 17 July 2009

Grass seed cocktail mixes are a complete nonsense

English dairy farmers continue to use a pasture seed mix that includes a cocktail of grasses & clovers. Why? This certainly isnt the common practice in NZ or Australia nor, I discovered, on leading farms in Brittany France. Most so called "cocktail grass mixes" contain a few named varieties & are then bulked up using various other non descript "others". Within a few months most will have been grazed out by the cows unable to compete. The remainder will probably cross breed. So whats the point?
Select one or two late heading ryegrasses that have UK trial data on performance & add say two vigorous white clovers (one upright medium to large leaf variety & one smaller more compact variety) If you are in a drier region you might add say "Matrix" a new NZ crossbred grass or a summer active Fescue (both late heading). Keep it simple.
One of the management headaches that these "pasture cocktail mixes" create is a pasture that has a huge spread of heading dates...........very common in the UK at the moment. This is a nightmare to manage & it lowers the feed value of the grazed pasture. Admittedly the dry summer in some areas has brought out ryegrass seed heads on very short stems but the breeding & genetic makeup of the different grasses is the core problem.
Keep it simple one or two late heading ryegrasses ONLY in your pasture seed mix.

Monday 6 July 2009

Why Are Farmers being paid less When retail prices are higher in the UK?

I read in the Telegraph newspaper this weekend that the price in the retail shops (read Supermarkets)for milk & cheese has gone up 14% & 9% repectively in the last year in the United Kingdom. 4 pints of Semi-Skimmed Milk is now £1.53 compared to £1.34 12 months ago. Mature Cheddar cheese has gone up from £3.52/400g to £3.85/400g.
How can this be when the milk prices to UK dairy farmers has dropped nearly 15%???
The average farm gate price in EU has dropped 28% in the last year.WHY HAS THE FARM GATE PRICE DROPPED?
We can bemoan Supermarket power & lack of real government concern but its easy to blame someone else.Milk in the UK is treated like a commodity not only by the Supermarkets but farmers too. This is disgraceful.

Milk cartons in UK stores must be the most boring items on the shelves.No excitement.No real link with real dairy farmers.No colour. No imagination.Milk is not sexy in UK stores.

A recent visit to canada highlighted how far the British dairy industry has fallen behind in milk packaging.See photos from Canada where there was a huge range of exciting milks on sale(these photos were taken in Quebec city)Milk has been made sexy & exciting by the producers.

Dont underestimate people power in changing the consumers perception of milk.I suggest you visit a really enterprising website set up by some university students in the USA.Not only have they a great website but they are fully exploring the use of Twitter Facebook & Myspace to target young teenage consumers. The new internet technologies of sites like Twitter are very powerful. We need to be using Twitter to communicate the benefits of grass fed milk to our consumers. If we dont you can be sure that those who are anti milk & dairy products will. In fact a search on Twitter using "milk" will quickly show you that there are organisations promoting milk & almost as many organisations who are anti milk & dairy products. This is the new age of people'd better get used to it. What are YOU going to do?

Milk can be exciting & well promoted just check out the "Got Milk" website from the Californian Milk Processor Board
I've just returned from France where dairy farmers are mounting protests about the very same issue...retail prices have increased whereas dairy farmers farm gate prices have fallen. Are we going to fight back in the UK? Are we going to get angry & protest? Or are we just going to get rolled over again?