Scottish dairy farmers are renewing their focus on efficiency in a bid to survive escalating input costs.
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As fuel, fertiliser, and feed all rapidly rise in farms, the dairy sector is battening down the hatches to weather the cost of farming crisis

Fuel, fertiliser, and feed prices are all rapidly rising, with no immediate end in sight, prompting the sector to batten down its hatches against the financial storm.

Dairy farmer Michael Yates, of East Logan by Castle Douglas, said: “We just have to be as efficient as we can be to survive. It is totally unknown where the feed and fuel prices are going. If we had a crystal ball we could make some decisions but we just don’t know where we will end up.

“This summer we wont be doing anything unless we really need to do it,” said Mr Yates. “As few passes across the field as possible to save diesel costs! The question has to be asked, will there be diesel available at silage time? On a dairy farm if you don’t have diesel you can’t feed cows.

“I luckily bought my fertiliser early so the silage ground will get getting the typical 50 units of nitrogen after the first two cuts, but after that it is just slurry.”

Mr Yates, who runs 400 Holstein cows on 500 acres, believes a farmgate milk price rise is needed if farmers are to cope: “The price really needs to be over 50ppl if we are to survive the rising costs, and we haven’t hit 40ppl yet.

“It is not just us, our staff are being affected by rising costs at home so we have raised their wages because without them we don’t function.”

Milk supply will be tight this year, according to David McMiken, who runs a herd of 300 dairy cows and cereals over 600 acres at Ernespie, Castle Douglas. He told The Scottish Farmer that the current costs would be reflected in the milk supply: “Obviously there is going to be a knock on effect on milk volumes. No-one is going to turn the taps on either here or globally. Protein prices are rising, so everyone will be looking at the cost of rations.

“We are lucky and bought feed contracts ahead, but there is a worry feed mills will claim force majeure and availability dries up.”

To get the most out of his fertiliser, Mr McMiken is delaying application so every unit of nitrogen has an impact on growth. He explained: “I will be later with my first fertiliser application on the grass. I want the ground to warm up to maximise uptake. Utilising farmyard manure can only get you so far so the ground will get the same amount of fertiliser for the first and second cut, but I’ll reduce the units later on in the year. The winter cereals have already had 50 units of nitrogen this week and I plan to do the whole 150 units.”

To cope with diesel prices going up and up, Colin Laird, of Blythbridge, East Linton, is increasing the amount of electric automation on farm. He said: “The diesel price was a shock when we last bought at £1.04/litre and I know it has gone up since. Too much of it is for tax.

“We are automating as much as possible on the farm to reduce the tractor hours. We have ten Lely robots and bedding machines which are all on electric. So are the slats scrapers and the electric push up for the silage pit. Some of the power is generated by our own solar panels but we are thinking about putting up enough to cover everything. But we will have to oversize the amount of electricity generated for the future as things like tractors might need to be plugged in.”

Farmers wanting to visit the Laird’s new dairy complex at Blythbridge are invited to their open day on May 12 at 10am. The event will have stock judging, trade stands and fundraising for charity.

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