Planning for Profit - Case Studies

Published 29 July 13

Planning for Profit Case Study 1: Ian Walker and his son Ben

Ian Walker and his son attended a  Planning for Profit workshop in early 2012. Ian and Ben milk 150 cows on 140 acres of grass and 70 acres of maize in Norfolk. The farm also has a 650 acre arable enterprise and a machinery sharing arrangement with a neighbour on a further 430 acres of arable land.

With the arable enterprise and buildings on the main road into Norwich which are ideally suited for industrial use, Ian really had to look at the profitability of the dairy enterprise and justify its viability.

“When we went on Planning for Profit we were already planning on making some major changes to the business,” says Ian. “We knew we needed to increase profit from the dairy herd and we were looking at moving from a high yielding herd to a more grazing based production system.  But we were very much in the infancy stage of planning and had a long way to go.

“We found the workshop incredibly useful, if a bit exhausting,” he jokes. “We covered so much and managed to look at so many aspects of the business and what changes could mean to us. It made you think about things such as the hidden costs of making system changes.”

AHDB Dairy's Planning for Profit workshop is a two day, consultancy lead, workshop which gives you the opportunity to work through several business scenarios that are directly relevant to your business’ future. Farmers provide business information, prior to attending, which is then used as the basis for planning and discussion during the workshop.

You can then see the effect of possible changes on things like cash flow, labour requirement and profit, without having to take the ‘suck it and see’ route. The consultants on hand help work through any queries, issue and problems that might arise.

“You work with your own figures, but also in a small group of farmers and consultants who bring their own mix of thoughts and ideas,” says Ian.

“Because we came to the workshop with a good idea about where we wanted to take the business in the future we spent our time exploring scenarios around the increased grazing option. But some farmers attended with very open minds about where the future of their businesses might lie. Planning for Profit gives the opportunity to look at some very different and radical changes and their effects on your business. The one thing we all have in common was we wanted to make more profit.

“Planning for Profit is a two day residential course, and whilst it can seem quite a task to get that chunk of time away from the farm, it’s certainly worth it in order to concentrate on your business,” Ian stresses.

He continues, “The workshop gave us the confidence to move forwards with our plans to move to a more grazing based system in order to cut costs.

“In 2012 we turned some of our cows out on 27th February and despite the wet weather we experienced, they stayed out until the start of autumn calving.

“Yields were lower than previous years but we had explored this consequence during Planning for Profit so we were prepared for it, and in fact we also halved our vet bills. The overall health of the herd has improved and we have seen a great improvement in fertility and lameness. We’ve also been able to sell £20,000 of surplus straw and £8000 of surplus maize silage.

“We’re keen to continue down the increased grazing route and look forwards to the opportunities it will bring to us in the future,” Ian concludes.

Planning for Profit Case Study 2: Roger Lewis, Pembrokeshire

The chance to ‘try out’ possible business scenarios, without having  to live with the long term implications, was the main attraction for Pembrokeshire dairy farmer Roger Lewis when he signed up  to a Planning for Profit workshop at the end of last year.

“I’m a member of a discussion group where we share comparable farm profit data and technical performance and I knew from those discussions Planning for Profit (P4P) would give me the chance for a really in-depth look at my business,” says Roger, who milks 260 autumn calving Holstein Frisian cows.

 “I was also keen to test out some ideas I had for the business on the P4P computer programme to see what effect they would have across the board, and whether or not they stacked up financially.”

Planning for Profit workshop is a two day, specialist consultant lead workshop, which gives you the opportunity to work through several business scenarios that are directly relevant to your business’ future. Prior to attending, farmers provide business information and data.  This is then used as the basis for planning and discussion during the workshop.

Farmers can then see the effect of possible changes on things like cash flow, labour requirement and profit, without having to take the ‘suck it and see’ route. The consultants on hand help work through any queries, issue and problems that might arise as well as delivering technical insight.

“The animal feeding element of the workshop was particularly interesting,” says Roger. “We discussed flat line feeding, the thinking behind it, and the practicalities within my system. It made me challenge the way I fed my cows and as a results I made some changes last summer.

“The cow has a pretty even energy requirement across her lactation because she is always doing something, be it getting pregnant, putting on body condition or reaching her lactational peak ,” explains Roger. “It means that her nutritional requirements are pretty level at different times of her lactation and the challenge is to meet them as economically as possible.

“This summer we removed buffer feed, focused on getting 15kg of Dry Matter grass into the cows, which was possible because of the fantastic weather and the grass growth, and fed a bit heavier through the parlour. We reduced our costs as we were feeding no conserved forage or blends.

“Another summer the conditions might not be right for this kind of policy but the Planning for Profit demonstrated how we could be flexible.

Nine other farmers, from across Wales, and from a mix of management systems, took part in the P4P workshop Roger attended and he saw this diversity as a real asset.

 “It’s always good to see how others are doing it, let’s face it we’re all inquisitive when it comes to each other’s farms and practices!” he says. “The group was very open, which was important as many were looking at big business changes. The workshop was a great chance to pick other farmers brains, as well as the consultants who ran the course.

“The two days away from the coal-face and the daily routine was hugely beneficial. Sometimes it can seem almost impossible to get away from the farm but it’s really worth investing that time in your business.

“I looked at a couple of scenarios for my business but what Planning for Profit showed me was that our current system has the flexibility to adapt to weather, feed cost and milk price challenges -although there is always room to challenge my cows, as I saw this summer. Most importantly it helped to show me where to channel my efforts,” Roger concludes.

Other Planning for Profit feedback includes:

“The workshop made me think about and justify many of the things we’ve been doing for years – a good thing. The mix of farmers on the workshop was very good; it gave me an appreciation of what else is happening out there in dairying. It certainly gave me new enthusiasm.”

Arnon Langridge, Carlisle workshop October 2012

“It is useful whatever your situation. Definitely go if you have a younger generation coming into the business. The best bit? The time to think off farm.”

David Edge, Warwickshire workshop, August 2012