Another year for monitor

THE second year of Northumberland’s Monitor Farm programme gets underway at a meeting next week.

The meeting on Tuesday at Rothley East Shields, near Morpeth, will focus on forage and will mark a new season of in-depth discussions that have proved invaluable to farmers.

Co-facilitator John Macfarlane, who is also director of Alnorthumbria Veterinary Practice, said: “Our first meeting, appropriate for spring, concerns grass aeration, seed performance and soil nutrients. These three topical issues will be covered by Richard Tolson from Farmway, the UK’s leading agricultural specialist supplier, David Long from Barenbrug, one of the largest seed producers, and George Hepburn from Soil Fertility Services, a Norfolk-based company that specialises in advice about trace elements.”

At the second meeting in June, Kate Phillips, a leading livestock consultant, will develop the theme by looking at the importance of trace elements for cattle and sheep. Louis Fell, George F White’s leading renewables expert, will be looking into the way energy can benefit the modern farm.

July sees Steve Powdrill from EBLEX talking about lamb selection, Jimmy Bell will talk about adding value to the carcass and Rob Livesey, of Racewell, will be on hand to discuss sheep handling systems.

In October, the project will hear from Dr Cliff Lister, technical manager at Caltech-Crystalyx, on winter feeding and Jamie Robertson on winter housing.

The November sessions will feature cattle breeding policy and EBVs.

John is delighted with the response from farmers. He said: “We have had exceptionally positive feedback on the events held so far. In our first year, we focused on livestock, land and pasture management, as well as environmental issues and changes in farm finance.”

Providing the background to the programme is the work completed at Donkin Rigg, the Monitor Farm itself. Chosen to illustrate best practice in agriculture, farmer Simon Bainbridge has been pursuing the project’s aims for 2010-11. These are to simplify management of cattle and sheep, improve production, increase cow and ewe numbers, establish breeding policies for cattle and sheep and to move to progress to spring calving over a two-year period.

At present, Donkin Rigg is still selling fat cattle. The long-term aim is to increase cow numbers, move to all spring calving and sell the spring calves as yearlings as it simplifies the process and the farm is more suited to store production.

Simon said: “The horrendous weather at the start of the year meant that the red clover did not establish as quickly as was hoped and in hindsight we should have swapped spring sowing to autumn sowing.

“However lambing has been great again and I would say two thirds of this is again down to the weather and the warm spring.

“I am thoroughly enjoying this opportunity and is has concentrated my own mind on my farm. If I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the support of these mentors and the steering committee, Donkin Rigg would not be going forward as quickly.”

Anyone interested in attending Tuesday’s meeting should preregister with Helen or Sandra on 0870 6091840/1904 771213 or