We have all read the stories about how much more we are paying for normal everyday purchases such as food, clothing, fuel, wife’s booze etc., so, with weather confining me to barracks for a day or two last week, I set out to do a few calculations (agricultural) of my own and although I am merely confirming what you as farmers already know, it still makes for uncomfortable reading.

Fertiliser prices have been hiked to astronomical levels with a typical 20.10.10 being up by 29 per cent, 25.5.5 up by 34 per cent and a whopping 43 per cent on 34.5 per cent ammonium nitrate and on top of that, put your own figures on diesel, petrol and heating oil.

Bought in feeds have also seen huge increases with wheat up by 107 per cent, barley up 119 per cent, sugar beet up 90 per cent, Hi Pro Soya up by 13 per cent and rapeseed meal up by seven per cent.

With such increases happening over the last 12/13 months, I then pose the question – “Is it realistic to suggest that you are getting similar increases for what you sell off farm?’’ I am already hearing the laugh – or is it a cry?

Today’s price of milk to Milk Link’s registered members is 26 ppl which represents an increase of 11 per cent over last year but unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the livestock industry with the average LWT prime beef price dropping by 1.75 per cent and LWT sheep price dropping by 8.5 per cent. Meat prices courtesy of EBLEX.

So, what action can (or must) you take in order to remain a viable and profitable enterprise because, believe me, doing nothing and sitting on your hands is not an option.

Fertilisers: Endeavour to get the most out of your slurry and FYM by better storage, utilization and timing of applications. Incorporate as soon as practically possible in order to avoid losses to the air or run off. All grazing leys should be considered for a white clover content of up to 20 per cent.

Feeds: In a nutshell – ‘’Better home grown forage and more of it.’’ Increased profitability in today’s world is not simply about making savings – you have to become more efficient – and there’s a world of difference between the two. Improve your efficiency and you’ll improve your profitability whereas just throwing the cheque book away will increase the problems.

I think it’s fair to say that most of you tend to over value the quality and potential of your summer grazing so lets start there.. If we get a wet summer, you’ll have bags of grass, poor quality and you’ll struggle to get the cows out because of poaching. If we have a dry summer, you won’t have much grass and you’ll have to open up the silage clamps – like a lot of people did in 2009 and 2010. So either way, you are going to have to do something – aren’t you? Stubble Turnips would be the only option for July grazings with rape and kale being available from August – later sowings of all three being able to provide nutritious grazings right through the autumn and into the winter. I have therefore identified these crops as the three main contenders for offering palatable and nutritious grazing from July right through the autumn and into winter and, accordingly, have written a bit of an insight into each one.

In addition, I have also included comments on grass, maize and fodder beet – believing that these will provide the basis of your winter forage programme.

Stubble Turnips: Very popular and extremely versatile catch crop which can be grazed as early as 12 weeks from sowing, so a mid – late April planting would enable you to start grazing from mid July onwards. Yields can be up to 16 tonnes per acre with dry matters at 9 per cent. High crude protein levels at 18 per cent but is only found in the leaves i.e. there is no protein in the bulb at all. Can be fed to both cattle and sheep but should be introduced into the diet gradually and should only be offered to dairy cows immediately after milking so as to avoid milk taint.

Samson and Delilah will produce huge roots with big leaves, but Tyfon and Rondo have a much higher ratio of leaf to bulb therefore giving higher yields of crude protein.

Kale: Sown from April – July and grazed from September - March, this is a high yielding (3 tonnes UDM/acre), high quality forage crop with crude protein levels close to 17 per cent. Low cost of production and very low costs of UDM, resulting in one of the cheapest sources of food production for both milk and meat. There are some new and exciting varieties on the market which have been bred specifically for our climate including material such as Grampian which offers good club root resistance.

Forage Rape: Sown from May onwards, this crop can be ready for grazing from 13 – 15 weeks – yielding up to 14 tonnes of fresh material per acre at around 13 per cent DM and crude protein levels touching 20 per cent. Ideal for both cattle and sheep but introduce gradually over a 2 week period. Somewhat susceptible to powdery mildew but varieties such as Hobson and Interval have good resistance.

Fodder Beet: With yields approaching 40 tonnes of fresh weight per acre and ME’s of up to 13.5, it’s no wonder that this crop has recently experienced a bit of a resurgence in popularity with plant breeders reporting quite a significant increase in the market which currently stands around 25,000 acres. It’s high sugar content and excellent palatability is reflected when fed as it stimulates appetites and increases dry matter intakes. It is a crop that really does respond well to good management and you can expect that your agronomist will be keeping quite a close eye on progress throughout the season. If your main criteria is yield, then a variety such as Robbos would fit the bill, but if you or your contractor are restricted to top lifting machines, then Blaze would be an ideal choice as it has a much higher percentage of bulb out of the ground and is therefore easier to lift and cleaner.

Maize: A high yielding and extremely palatable crop with a high proportion of by-pass starch and, along with fodder beet, are ideal crops to not only increase milk yields, but also for both fattening and finishing beef. Extensive research and investments into plant breeding has resulted in maize being successfully grown on quite marginal sites with the latest material coming from the Limagrain programme providing even earlier and higher yielding varieties. Whilst the initial costs of establishing the crop can appear to be high, the potential returns are more than worthwhile and with fertilizer prices being exhorbitant, appropriate amounts of farmyard manures and slurry – applied at the most opportune time, can significantly reduce costs.

Grassland: The key crop behind any successful dairy or livestock farmer and yet, despite all that, the production of grazed and ensiled grass still lies nowhere near its true potential. You all acknowledge that you can vastly improve upon it’s management and production – when you actually decide to start is obviously down to you.

With autumn tending to be the best months for re-seeding in the south west, spring is usually the period when we see renovation and sward rejuvenation – usually by mechanical means e.g. spring tine harrows followed by an overseed of the more aggressive tetraploid varieties which offer better drought resistance and winter hardiness and if you intend to keep the sward down for another couple of years, you could also include a kg of white clover blend per acre.

Seed mixtures treated with a growth stimulant such as Headstart or Integral would be quite invaluable when the emerging seed has to compete with the existing sward. Younger grasses of less than five years old are also much more responsive to nitrogen and therefore offer a better return on investment.