Having his Maximum Sustainable Output calculated has provided reassurance to farmer

Tim Morrow shares how his Maximum Sustainable Output was calculated as part of a project with the Nature Friendly Farming Network, funded by DAERA’s Environment Fund.
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Here on Streamvale farm, we’ve been relatively low-input for a dairy farm for quite some time.

I made the changes for personal reasons: environmental impact, nature recovery, and workload.

I wanted to make sure it was the correct choice financially, too.

Tim Morrow from Streamvale Farm. (Pic:NFFN)Tim Morrow from Streamvale Farm. (Pic:NFFN)
Tim Morrow from Streamvale Farm. (Pic:NFFN)

Moving away from high fertiliser inputs on the farm was no easy decision, and I was told I wouldn’t be able to grow enough grass to maintain my herd size.

Personal experience has shown this to be untrue, with a reduction in input use without a hit to our output.

I’ve been converting 10 per cent of the farm annually from straight grass swards into mixed species swards to promote soil health and provide a varied diet to my cows, as well as introducing clover to our swards, which lock in nitrogen to our soils, replacing the need for artificial fertilisers.

This has not come without challenges.

Establishing some of the mixed species swards can be difficult, and we all know how little the weather has cooperated this summer.

However, having my Maximum Sustainable Output calculated by the Nethergill team has reassured me that I’ve made the right choice.

Our low reliance on artificial inputs, including fertilisers, non-essential vet and medical bills, and concentrated feed, has allowed us to keep our costs down, which we’ve particularly benefited from in recent years as prices have skyrocketed.

Nethergill refers to these inputs as ‘Corrective Variable Costs’, which means any input that tries to push production beyond what nature provides naturally through photosynthesis.

As Nethergill’s research finds, increasing output and input usage doesn’t guarantee increased commercial returns.

Their recent analysis, published by the NFFN, finds that every £1.00 of revenue generated above the natural carrying capacity of the land incurs an additional cost of up to £7.50.

We still have a long way to go here on Streamvale Farm.

Our report from Nethergill told us that, due to our artificial inputs, despite being relatively low, for every £1 of sales beyond our Maximum Sustainable Output point, it is costing us £3.50.

I was surprised to see it was as much as this, and although I was told this was low in comparison to many of the 200 plus farms Nethergill has worked on in the UK, I hope to see this figure drop in the near future as we continue to transition here on Streamvale Farm.

To learn more about Maximum Sustainable Output, read NFFN’s report, Striking the Balance.

The Nature Friendly Farming Network is led by farmers across the UK with a passion for sustainable farming and nature.

They seek to unite farmers across the UK who have a sustainable outlook and to secure positive changes in policy, including how farming is supported by the public.