The Mitchell Family are Dairy farmers and wanted to make their farm more efficient while at the same time benefit the environment. With funding sought under the NI Rural Development Programme via The Farm Business Improvement Scheme (Tier 2) Capital, 6 robotic milking units were purchased along with innovative milk testing software/equipment as well as ancillary milking equipment such as automatic shedding gates and feed bins. The development compliments the farm’s existing rotary parlour. With slurry supplied from the farm, this feeds an anaerobic digester plant operated by a sister company of the business
Jason Mitchell in partnership with his father own a farm near Ardstraw in Co Tyrone and operate a dairy enterprise comprising 581 milking cows and 389 youngstock.
The farm employs 5 full time members of staff supported by 3 contract milkers.
With 3 generations of the family now living on the farm, considering the farm’s longer-term sustainability was a key consideration for Mr Mitchell and his family.
Whilst the business was successful, it was heavily reliant on low skilled labour involved in the repetitive task of milking 3 times per day. The farm experienced a high turnover of milking staff, affecting management time and incurring additional costs. With a review of staffing requirements and proficiency in associated tasks within the enterprise, an emphasis was placed on good husbandry skills as well as the use of technical innovation to help reduce production costs while at the same time future proofing the farm business. An important factor was also the balance between work and lifestyle considerations, encouraging future generation participation on the family farm and thus ensuring a successive farming handover.
6 Robotic milker units were purchased along with a herd navigator management system, a scraper system and drinking and lighting system. These items were further complimented with items such as cubicles and mats, automatic shedding gates and a 30t meal bin and auger.
All of these items were eligible for grant under Tranche 1 of Tier 2 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme - Capital (FBIS – C)
The enterprise was transformed with the milking system purchased, a system which guides and encourages cows to move in a certain routine, reducing labour costs and demonstrating greater milking and feeder efficiency. The equipment also has an incorporated software package which monitors the cow’s health and milk quality. The facility also has an on-farm lab which automatically samples the milk from each quarter to check urea levels, progesterone levels, ketosis and udder health. This allows for the highest possible standards of management for a herd based on a robotic milking platform, contributing to consumer confidence. Ultimately with such processes deployed there is a considerable saving on both operational costs as well as staff time.
With the additional items purchased, these have contributed both towards animal comfort and general husbandry skills. With the automatic shedding gates and scraper systems deployed, this has helped aid both health and safety on the farm and the reduction of labour costs.
With the systems now deployed and with a highly skilled manager now in place, the farm is now focused on preparing for the future and is better placed to cope with volatility within the dairy industry. Likewise, in order to prepare for succession planning, the farm business is projected to grow, making it a more sustainable and appealing choice of business for the next generation to consider.
Overall with the equipment funded under Tier 2, the development subscribes favourably to the key themes of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme which includes; sustainable growth, improvement to environmental and climate change, animal welfare, health and safety and production efficiency on the farm.
Mr Mitchell highlighted a number of lessons learnt from the implementation of his project and this included:
• The need to plan ahead – short, medium and longer term, both financially and operationally.
• The importance of participating in workshops and taking on board advice from the Department and Programme Promoters, regarding investment readiness and in particular the need to secure planning permission, match funding and other specific requirements prior to application.
• The importance of introducing family members at an early age to the business (while adhering to health and safety requirements) to help build capacity and learn on the job while respecting and acknowledging the work/life balance.
The Farm Business Improvement Scheme – Capital is worth some £40m over two tranches for each Tier and was opened to those involved in production agriculture or horticulture to support farmers develop their farm businesses and to improve their profitability through capital investment.
Tier 1 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme – Capital supported on-farm investment projects between £5,000 and £30,000, focussed on improving sustainability and offered farmers and growers the opportunity to invest in machinery and equipment to support improved animal health and welfare, on-farm health and safety, environmental performance and production efficiency. Across both Tranches of Tier 1 nearly 6,600 applications were received and over 3,300 Letters of Offer have been issued worth around £15m in grant aid levering investment of close to £40m. With tranche 1 projects already implemented, farmers are already benefitting from their investment.
Tier 2 of the Farm Business Improvement Scheme – Capital focussed on driving larger scale, transformational investment in projects costing more than £30,000. Tier 2 provided the opportunity to invest in both equipment and construction as part of larger, integrated Projects and encouraged future proofed, fit for purpose, modern infrastructure and equipment that are financially and environmentally sustainable. Tranche 1 of Tier 2 received 189 applications. To date the Department has issued over 100 Letter of Offers to the value of £11m in grant aid levering investment of close to £30m. This indicates a good appetite for transformational change.