Farm Diary June 10 2009

LAST week was again warm and sunny, but this weekend has clouded over and plenty of rain on Sunday has ensured the continuation of the perfect spring (apologies that it came at the weekend).

We have been busy spreading dirty water on the few silage fields where the grass is not too tall; we will be cutting again in two weeks, weather permitting.

Concrete continues to be poured as we await the return of the German workers.

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With the gas-cooler pad finished, James is now pouring the base pads for the two feeders. We have (at last) started to fill the first tank with slurry, but at 24 metres diameter, it will take a while!

Most of the equipment is now on site and the CHP (combine heat and power unit) arrives this week.

This will be a very large container, with the engine and generator inside, and other necessary equipment.

It weighs over 30 tonnes, and the exhaust pipe (which has its own concrete pad alongside!) is ten meters high, and almost a meter in diameter.

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Glebedales contractors have been in with a very big set of disc cultivators to assist us in bringing a 30 acre field at the top of Crouchlands back into production.

We have been spreading slurry on this field for the last three years, and failed to get it back into grass due to the wet summers.

With the dry spell and sunny days, we have sub-soiled this field twice in the last month, and the big tractor and the discs got off to a good start.

With over 300 horses working hard, progress was being made, until the unit got stuck; very stuck indeed!

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The tractor had to be pulled out first and then the discs, but soon after getting going, it bogged down yet again.

Eventually, the field was cultivated, and we will sub-soil again in order to lift the soil and get it dried out.

The plan is to disc once more and follow with the power-harrow. I don't think we will have any qualms about the grass seed running short of moisture!

Roughly six months after the latest robbery at the farm, our cheap runabout car was stolen last week.

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With everything locked up, they took the only thing available to them, which is an old Saab which we run around in from farm to farm, trailer behind if necessary.

As we all jump in this vehicle from time to time, it was not unusual for the keys to be left in the ignition!

The thief obviously wasn't terribly impressed with his 'loot', and the police found it abandoned at Chiddingfold, which is only a few miles away.

I gather that many vehicles and machinery has gone missing in the area again in the last few weeks from farms and building sites.

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The very sad news in the dairy industry this week was the collapse of farmer co-operative Dairy Farmers of Britain (DFoB).

The company was placed in the hands of the receivers last Wednesday, and it became clear shortly after that the 1,800 dairy farmers who owned and supplied this business had not only lost all the capital invested in the company in the last few years (circa 75m), but their May milk cheque was gone as well.

This is a bitter pill to swallow, and although everyone knew the company had been in trouble for some time, and many dairy farmers realized their capital contributions were likely to be gone; it was brutal to then lose a months milk money (14,000 on average), which is of course needed to pay for feed, wages, fertilizer and general overheads.

The NFU has been flat out liaising with other milk processors and buyers in order to find a home for as much milk as possible, advising farmer members who rang in, talking to the receiver, the banks, and so on.

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There were thousands of 'hits' on the web-site, where our legal team had posted a 'question and answer' service, which was updated several times a day as new information arrived.

Coping with the usual media frenzy was very time-consuming, as the interest spread from the agricultural press to local and regional and then the national papers.

By the weekend, several good things were happening. The Organic Milk Suppliers Co-op (OMSCO) had agreed to take all the organic milk from DFoB members (82) which was a relief to them.

Milklink Co-op led by Neil Kennedy, has provisionally agreed to buy the Llandyrnog hard cheese plant in North Wales, protecting the livelihoods of those dairy farmers (300) who supplied the factory.

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The soft cheese factory producing 'Lubborn' cheese, is likely to have been sold to the 'Lactalis' cheese company.

This leaves the liquid side of the business which has been the cause of all the trouble; we wait and see if anyone steps forward to buy those plants.

Whilst the majority of DFoB suppliers have either signed with someone else, or are considering who to sign with, the NFU has pockets of dairy farmer members in Wales, and the North of England, who are either small producer's and or badly located for milk collection.

This is a real worry, and we believe that a number of dairy farmers will be forced out of the industry due to no fault of their own.

In West Sussex we have 14 suppliers who will have suffered severe financial losses, but they will at least have a choice of milk buyers for their milk.

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