Torr Farm, Dumfries & Galloway (Organic dairy)

Brother and sister team Ross and Lee Paton.

Torr Farm has 170 dairy cows, mainly Holstein-Fresian and Montbelliarde, along with a few Ayrshire and Norwegian Red. The business retains all of the offspring from the dairy herd, either for breeding or for finishing, with around 100 head of cattle being finished per year.

Of the total land area approximately 100 ha are woodland or rough grazing, approximately 80 ha are used for growing cereals, namely arable silage, spring barley and winter wheat, and the rest is sown to grass for grazing and silage.

How might climate change affect Torr Farm?

The Scottish climate is predicted to become warmer in the summer and wetter in the winter as a result of climate change.  More extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heatwaves are also predicted.  It’s the weather extremes which are the main concerns for Torr, as it is a low lying coastal farm with mainly heavy soils.

Floods coinciding with sowing, silage time and harvesting will jeopardise the production of good quality home grown fodder which is critical for Torr.  Wetter soils will also reduce the opportunities for grazing, possibly resulting in the cattle having to be housed for longer.  Downpours at harvest time will also increase drying costs.

On the other extreme, heatwaves during the summer may reduce both crop and grass yields due to drought stress, especially on lighter soils around the farm.  This would result in Torr having to purchase in extra concentrates to compensate for the potential yield reduction.  Heat stress could also be an issue; Ross may have to provide increased ventilation in the sheds.

As an organic farm the threat of new or more aggressive pests and diseases in crops is also a concern.

Energy and Fuel

There are a range of measures all farms can consider to reduce energy and fuel use. Small changes may seem insignificant, but if these actions are carried out on a daily basis they can add up to significant savings. During the initiative, Ross and Lee looked at the following measures:

  • Electricity metering: installed a SMART meter to measure and monitor electricity use.
  • Timers and insulation: checked settings on water heating timers and increased insulation on hot water pipes and storage tanks.
  • Hot water use: reduced to one hot and one cold wash daily in the parlour.
  • Assessed dairy operation: retrofitted a variable speed milk pump.
  • Fuel: monitored and recorded use.
  • Machinery: matched the correct sized tractor to the job where possible and made sure equipment was well maintained (e.g. correct tyre pressure).
  • Reduced fuel use associated with spreading; minimised production and handling of lightly contaminated water. These actions contributed to a reduction in electricity use of 22,455 kWh (21%) saving around £1,900 and 13.33 tonnes of CO2. Fuel use decreased by 9,650 litres (33%) saving around a further £6,600 and 30.64 tonnes of CO2.

Fertilisers and Manures

As an organic farm Torr pays close attention to making the best use of the nutrients contained in the slurry and FYM that is produced.  Analysis of farm slurry showed that one 10m3 tanker could have an equivalent fertilser value of around £30.

All the fields on the farm have had their P, K, Mg and pH levels analysed.  Using all of this information, PLANET Scotland was used to carry out whole farm nutrient management planning, highlighting optimum nutrient application on target fields.

A new slurry store was erected (SRDP funded measure 2011) which maximised storage and allowed nutrients to be used at the optimum time to meet crop requirements.  Research suggests that slurry applied by a trailing shoe system can produce 30% more grass compared with splash plate application. Using a trailing shoe, the nutrients are placed directly onto the crop, reducing nitrogen lost as ammonia (Ross had already been using this system for a number of years)

Red clover is incorporated into some of the silage fields; white clover is always included in all other grass seed mixes.

Locking up carbon and protecting soils

Torr had 30 ha of existing woodland; an additional 2.2ha of native woodland was planted during the project – this has the potential to lock-up or ‘sequester’ 23.95 tonnes of CO2 as the trees grow.

There is approximately 45 ha of rough grazing that is never ploughed. This land is also protected from over grazing which could lead to increased carbon loss.

Farm soil structure assessments allowed improvements to be made in problem areas, examples include:

  • alleviated compaction: a programme of sub-soiling remediated identified compaction.  The estimated potential yield increase of 38 tonnes (fresh weight) of grass could be achievable over 50 ha.  This equivalent to £950 and 4.40 tonnes CO2e when compared to buying in additional grass silage.
  • Improved drainage: in 2013, 20ha of drainage systems were renewed on cropped land and grassland.  The impact of drainage on crop and grass yields will not be evident until 2014.  This is an expensive activity and a long term strategy; however, maintiaing a rolling programme of drain maintenance and renewal will benefit farm soils and crop yields.  It is estimated that good drainage can deliver 30-40% improvements in grass yields.
  • Improved soil structure and drainage: livestock could remain outside longer.  Maximising the outdoor grazing period could reduce the need for additional bout in feed.  Wet weather and field conditions forced early housing in 2012; this meat and additional 193 tonnes of bought in feed was required which increased CO2e emissions by 24.15 tonnes, illustrating the importance of protecting soils to improve farm resilience.

More financial and carbon benefits as a result of addressing soil nutrient status and drainage are expected to be seen in future years.

Measures to optimise livestock management

Milk production efficiency was already being closely monitored e.g. genetics, feeding and animal health.  Regular visits from a dairy specialist are undertaken and their advice implemented.  Additionally, an annual health plan is regularly reviewed throughout the year.  The high health status of the herd ensures improved productivity.

In addition to all of the measures above, during the programme analysis of forage showed that production of high quality silage and knowing it’s nutritional value can aid accurate rations, saving 1kg of concentrate per cow per day.  Over a typical 182 day winter that can equal a saving of 32 tonnes of organic concentrates, saving £10,355 and a reduction of 10.91 CO2e.  In addition, regular condition scoring of the cows was introduced and feeding is adjusted accordingly, maximising feed use efficiency on the farm.

A batch of 15 heifers had their calving age reduced from 34 to 24 months.  From entering the milking herd to the end of the reporting year, milk production is estimated to have increased by 50,450 litres, generating around £17,500.

Key findings from Torr Farm

  • Monitoring is key to identifying current performance and will highlight opportunity for savings.
  • Technically efficient farms can still identify scope for savings: Ross saved around £37,000 over the initiative.
  • The carbon footprint at Torr reduced by 11% over the three year period; this figure was lower than expected mainly due to the poor weather in 2012/2013. Further reductions in costs and emissions are expected as the measures take effect on the farm (e.g. targeted spend on nutrients once soils are in balance, improved drainage leading to better yields).
  • Weather has a big impact on farm costs and emissions. Prolonged rainfall increased emissions as the farm adapted routine practices to cope with the adverse weather.
  • Implementing measures now can put you in better shape for the future, helping you to hand on a more resilient farm in an uncertain climate.

Additional resources

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