Mole Valley Farmers Forage for Profit Awards, now in its fifth year, demonstrates the value of competition in helping to raise everyone's game.
Last week, at the Rookery Manor Hotel, near Weston-super-Mare, the finalists of the 2014 awards gathered to celebrate their success at a gala dinner and find out who had been judged top in their class.
As the company reported in the introduction to this year's awards programme: "At the time of its inception the average quality of the annual 3,000 Mole Valley Farmers grass silage samples was a lowly 10.2 M.E – barely maintenance levels. This has shown a marked improvement in each year following the launch of the Forage for Profit initiative. Having the right base of quantity and quality of forage is recognised as being one of the most important factors in increasing livestock profitability."
First prize for The Dairy Award, sponsored by Germinal Seeds, was shared between two Cornish farmers, both of whom house their cattle all year and feed them forage harvested from the farm. David and Nicola Renfree, of Trecorme Farm, Quethiock, near Liskeard, farm a herd of 70 dairy cows on a robot milking system, feeding them fresh-cut grass. Cutting leys are all high sugar grasses with red and white clover. Mark and Lyn Button, of Polshea Farm, St Tudy, near Bodmin, use conserved forage to feed their 900 cows, getting 8,750 litres of milk per cow, per year.
Winners of the Maize Award, sponsored by Ecosyl was Richard Martin of Trethick Farm, St Mabyn, near Bodmin, who grows 500 acres of the crop a year to feed a 950-strong herd of Holsteins. Maize makes up 70 per cent of their ration and five varieties are grown, to minimise risk of crop failure.
The Beef and Sheep Award, sponsored by Limagrain, was won by Frank and Angela Hawkins of North Beer Farm, Spreyton, Devon, who produce grass, maize and cereals on 334 acres of their 426-acre farm. The aim of the Hawkins' is to be as self-sufficient and in control of feed inputs as possible.
Charles and Sam Phillips of Macaroni Farm, Eastleach. Cirencester, were the only finalists from outside of Devon or Cornwall to take a top prize. The took the Big Bale Award, sponsored by Silotite. Red clover or barley vetch mix big bale silage is used to fatten cattle, cutting down on the use of concentrates.
The Grazing Award, sponsored by Agrovista, was won by Bicton College's Home Farm. It keeps 200 cross-bred cows outside all year and forage and grazed grass is the key to the system. The spring calving herd is rotationally grazed on 24-hour paddocks. Maize, grass silage or whole crop makes up any shortfall.
The Most Improved Award, sponsored by Mole Valley Farmers forage services, was won by Glyn and Amy Gordon of Riddle Farm, Loxhore, Barnstaple. Amy and her father, Glyn have changed their grazing system over the past two years to a rotational paddock system, enabling them to increase stocking rates of their 105-strong Simmental cross cows and followers.