A young dairy farmer milking cows on his partnership farm in France says they are being very cautious about expanding the herd even with the disappearance of milk quotas.
Thibaut Cordel is only 28 years old and is one partner in a dairy farm located near the French border with Germany. Their farm is called Ferme de l'Alliance which is a partnership farm between 8 people and has an extra 2 workers to help out. On the farm there are 240 mainly Holstein cows which produce an average of 10,500 litres of milk each per year. Other livestock on the farm include 90 Limousin cows used for beef production.
Dairy and beef cattle
As far as land goes Thibaut and his team work 300 hectares for grass, hay, silage and pasture as well as a further 600 hectares for crops such as winter wheat, barley, oilseed rape and corn silage. Around 60% of the land is owned and the remaining is rented. From the Limousin herd the farm produces 40 beef bulls per year and 25 heifers for killing. Thibaut said: "The partnership is made up of me, my parents, one of my uncles and 4 neighbours. "We milk 240 cows in total and the milk is sold to a French dairy processor which in turn sells it on to a bigger German dairy company for marketing. "Our cows are feed with a Total Mixed Ration and are kept in their houses all year round. Here the grass usually only grows from the middle of April until the end of June and then again from early September to the end of October. "The base of the TMR is the grass and maize silage produced on the farm with barley added."
Working as a partnership
Working a dairy farm as a partnership in Europe is not uncommon. Back in 1983 Thibaut's father Didier built the farm with 30 dairy cows on 70 hectares. This date also signalled the beginning of the Limousin herd too. His parents got married the next year and merged this farm with that of Thibaut's grandparents. Then in 1991 and in 1993 his mother and uncle formally joined the partnership respectively. 5 years later in 1998 the first neighbour joined which meant the business expanded to 80 cows and 300 hectares. It was also at this stage the team built a new barn for 120 cows and invested in a new Boumatic milking parlour. In 2007 another neighbour joined bringing 40 more cows and another 70 hectares closely followed by 2 more neighbours in 2009 with another 80 cows and 350 more hectares.
€0.29 per litre of milk
Thibaut himself joined in 2013 when he bought another neighbours farm and added that to the mix. Thibaut said: "Currently, because we are operating from 2 main locations we milk 130 cows with 2 robotic milking machines which are Lely A4 systems fitted in 2013. The remaining cows are milked in the milking parlour. "We receive €0.29 per litre for the milk. This is not such a good price but it's the same all over the world. "The dairy processor in Germany that we are currently working with is allowing us to produce as much milk as we want. "However, this is a bit tricky because no contracts have been signed on a price or a quantity basis. This makes us advance move slowly and be cautious by growing the herd only naturally with our cattle.
"According to the actual milk price and without any contract ensuring a decent price, we are not really motivated to grow fast. And banks are a bit cautious as well to follow dairy projects."
Fully use actual equipment
"So our goal is now more to fully use the actual equipment we have before starting any growth in the milk production. We are more looking about side revenues, as a biogas plant or a farm market, to bring some added value."
In fact plans are underway to build a biogas plant on the farm to produce and sell energy from. A new farm shop was built on the premises in 2014 to sell home produced food from. Thibaut has been married for 1 year and is looking forward to a profitable future in the dairy industry. He said: "In my free time I still enjoy reading when I'm not too tired and I also like going out with friends. However, I prefer travelling but that is hard to keep doing while being a dairy farmer."