Eye on detail key to making improvements and saving money

The end of the year is naturally a time for farmers to make plans for the coming seasons.

So, while many people forget their work, and focus entirely on festivities and family, farmers will be thinking ahead, looking over figures and perhaps meeting and talking with others about the coming year.

They’ll be mindful of the forecasts for costs and returns in each of the main farming enterprises.

For example, HSBC Head of Agriculture Allan Wilkinson provides words of warning and advice to farmers, saying that they need to concentrate ‘on the basics’ — advice which rings particularly true to me.

Getting work done more efficiently, at less cost, taking less time, and avoiding huge capital expenditure which is sometimes seen as essential, are all components of a successful year’s farming.

Wilkinson underlines the risks attached to weather, and also price volatility, which causes the range of profit margins to be wider than ever. “After recent high levels of farm incomes, this has to be the year to concentrate on the basics in order to preserve margins,” says Wilkinson.

His bank sees a high probability of a declining price for cereals; strong oilseed prices; a volatile milk market which will be affected by farmers’ political power and currency and support prices; a peak for sheep; and dampened demand for beef, as economic recession continues.

While bankers look at the overall picture for farms and farming, my interest and that of many farmers is to keep nibbling away at detail, making improvements and savings.

This week I show how a dairy farmer has made a simple adaptation to channel the heat from the bulk tank compressor into the dairy in cold weather.

It’s something nearly every dairy farmer could do.

The benefits are pretty obvious.

Frozen pipes in the dairy take time and effort to thaw, which delays milking.

Quartz infra-red heaters are expensive to run.

Channelling waste heat from the compressor into the dairy makes it pleasant to work in, and it can be done with a small amount of work.

The project was to build a plywood dog kennel around the compressor, make a hole in the dairy wall so the air flows inside the space, and fit a door to the back of the kennel which can be open in warm weather and closed when it’s cold.

Programming the compressor to start later then normal in the off-peak period, so the heat goes into the dairy when the temperature is at its coldest, is a refinement that will make best use of the heat provided.

Farm advisors are generally big advocates of ‘benchmarking’, or comparing your farm’s physical and financial performance with those of others. Small improvements such as this will make a difference, by improving work environment, and saving money and time.

* This season, I have made packs of back issues, viewable on www.farmideas.co.uk, which might appeal to cost-conscious farmers for some Christmas reading.


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