Monitor farm projects aimed at reducing Scottish dairy farmers cost of production have been of 'significant benefit' according to participants at the final project meetings at Glennap in the south west and Auchenheath in Lanarkshire.
Glenapp Estate manager, Charlie Russell, cited how the group has helped him achieve significantly lower cost of milk production: "When we first set out as hosts for the monitor farm project here in Glenapp, we were still on a steep learning curve, having only recently established the dairy enterprise. When the project first started our break even costs of production were 26 / 27ppl."
"Thankfully, having implemented many recommendations from the group meetings, I now see how we can get this to 16ppl. We won't get there this year, but I think its achievable," said Mr Russell.
"Making the best use of grazed grass has been key. Profitability is related indisputably to tons of DM utilised per ha, and our job is to maximise that intake. We have focussed on this at the meetings and we are now much more accurate at measuring grass cover and getting the most from our rotational grazing regime.
"This past winter we also started experimenting with on - off grazing," added Mr Russell. "This meant putting cows out for only three hours per day, sometimes even less in the worst winter weather, but it certainly seems to have cut feed and forage bills.
"The group has helped to ensure that we have not cut costs to the detriment of output, in fact we are now consistently achieving our target of 2.0kg of milk solids. Tightening up calving patterns and importing the best genetics available have helped with this yield achievement."
Gavin Ballantyne, who hosted the central dairy monitor farm on his family's 140 cow unit at Auchenheath, commented: "Being selected to host the monitor farm project came about at just the right time for us. Prior to the project, and our expansion, Auchenheath was performing well, but standing still. The farm probably wasn't sustainable in the long term and therefore we had a get-in or get-out decision to make.
"Throughout the project the group has helped us face up to the challenges of growing herd by retaining home bred heifers," he said. "We have now reached our initial target of 145 cows in mill, erected the new slurry tower, built a new cow shed and bought 40 acres of rough ground into full production.
"The reality is that if milk prices had stayed at 25ppl, which is what we were getting when this all started, we would now have grown our milk sales by 47%, which is £77k. These are great figures to focus on and hopefully achieve when the price does pick up. Our current milk price of 15-16ppl makes further investment plans very difficult, but no business can afford to stand still."
Looking to the future of the dairy monitor farm project, Glenapp group chairman Neil Wilson stated: "The funding from ScotGov and AHDB, and the support of Sharon Lauder from AHDB Dairy, have been instrumental in making this happen. Hopefully there will be similar support available to carry new dairy monitor farm projects on into the future."
Lesmahagow dairy famer Iain Armstrong summed up the feelings of monitor group members: "The monitor farm project has stimulated a lot of good discussion. I have only missed three meetings out of 17. I have learned a lot and it has made me rethink how we deal with challenges at home."