Business Link safeguard farms

Business Link helping to safeguard the future of dairy
farms

Dairy farmers in North Devon are working
together to share good practice, identify innovation and to help
ensure they won’t be victims of any future downturn in the
industry’s fortunes.

More than 35 farmers meet regularly to compare
notes, exchange ideas and hear about RDPE funding opportunities.
The North Devon Dairy Discussion Group is funded by Business Link’s
Rural Enterprise Gateway (REG) service and is proving of great
value to its
members.                                                            

“You might see something in a book that looks
like a good idea or have an evening chat over a game of darts, but
mostly it’s better if you can see how another farmer does something
before deciding to make changes,” said Barnstaple-based dairy
farmer Andrew Lewis, one of the group.

According to Dave Budd, who is a director and
principal consultant at the England-wide specialist consultancy The
Dairy Group: “It’s by openly sharing best practice that today’s
farmers can ensure they won’t be victims of any future downturn in
the industry’s fortunes.”

Dave agrees with Andrew that it’s very
important for farmers to see first-hand what others are doing
differently from them.  “That’s why all the seven meetings we
hold each year are at a member farm,” he says.  “It gives
people the opportunity to look closely and ask questions about each
other’s experiences – and it often results in people changing
the way they do things.”

For example, almost three-quarters of the
group now use sand as their bedding material for cattle, after some
of its advantages over straw were demonstrated at one
meeting.  “First and foremost, it’s more comfortable,” says
Dave.  “Also, it contains lime which is then spread over a
farm’s grassland, meaning farmers don’t need to buy it.  Sand
also prevents falls, because it gives hooves a better grip, and it
helps prevent mastitis. All in all, it’s a great move – and it’s
only so widely used around here thanks to our meetings.”

Dave also emphasises how group members are
open with one another about their costs of production – per litre
of milk, per cow and per acre of land.  “So if they find that
one farmer’s costs are significantly lower than average, they can
really delve into the reasons and what they should consider
changing,” he says.

REG Information Adviser Maddi Bridgeman is the
group’s key contact at Business Link for advice and information on
all available services, including the availability of RDPE
funding.  She is delighted to be able to work with groups like
this one on their activities, including regular farm-walk meetings
and an annual best practice visit to elsewhere in the UK or
abroad. 

Andrew Lewis agrees. “We had a visit to
Ireland a couple of years back, and it was great to meet a group of
really relaxed dairy farmers. I learned a great deal about
grassland management then – rather than just put my cows into a
field until they’ve eaten its grass, I now plan and manage the
process properly, because there’s no doubt that our cheapest feed
comes from the green stuff in the fields.”

He also remembers fondly the last meeting at
his farm when a visiting bovine lameness expert, Dr Nick Bell who
is an independent consultant and a Research Fellow at Bristol
Veterinary College, gave a very useful talk.  As Andrew says,
“With cows, it’s always the feet that go first, so the better you
can look after them, the longer the cow will last.  Nick’s
presentation gave us real insight, and I involved Steve Lerwill who
looks after the feet of my cattle too.”

Dave Budd continues, “We theme our meetings
around topics of interest, from mastitis to fertility, renewable
energy to grants and buildings, and it always adds an important new
dimension when we can get an outside specialist. 

“For this group in particular, Business Link’s
REG provides a tremendous service that we couldn’t do without. It
gives a real boost to the survival prospects of our farmers.”

Anyone wishing to find out more about Business Link’s REG
service, including how it can help farming groups and collectives,
should call 0845 600 9966 or visit www.businesslink.gov.uk/southwest/rural.