Improved community spirit, better business performance and an openness to change are just some of the benefits experienced by farming groups and businesses involved in the 2016–2019 Monitor Farm Scotland programme, according to a new report launched by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
Funded by Scottish Government, the aim of the Monitor Farm Project is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses. Nine monitor farms were established across Scotland in Nithsdale, Lochaber, Sutherland, the Borders, North Ayrshire, Shetland, Morayshire, the Lothians and Angus.
The Monitor Farm Impact Report includes the changes and improvements each of the nine monitor farms have made over the three-year programme.
The report also showcases the results of a survey conducted with those who were part of the project. The survey highlighted that 93% of those who attended a Monitor Farm meeting felt this was a good use of their time. The results also show that 70% of attendees say the Monitor Farm programme allowed them to form new networks and build relationships with their farming community.
With farming often an isolating and lonely profession, one of the most profound effects of the initiative has been in bringing farming communities together. Meeting regularly and sharing ideas and offering feedback has helped forge new friendships, build confidence and encourage knowledge sharing.
Bruce McConachie, Head of Industry Development with QMS said: “Every one of the nine Monitor Farms has embraced the support of the Monitor Farm network wholeheartedly. The Monitor Farm Impact Report highlights the numerous improvements host farmers have made to their businesses, which, in turn, has made them more resilient and profitable.”
“The results also show that at the heart of the initiative is the support of the whole farming industry. Through regular farm meetings with industry experts and a passionate group of local farmers, knowledge and experiences have been shared.”
Paul Flanagan, Scotland Director for AHDB added: “Gathering data and basing decisions on numbers and evidence has been at the forefront of this initiative. This has highlighted areas that could be improved within individual farm businesses and focused attention on those areas which were underperforming. For some, this has resulted in a complete change in business direction. However, for most of the monitor farmers, making improvements to overall business efficiencies has been about adopting numerous small changes that add up to a big difference.”
The Monitor Farm Impact Report publication can be viewed and downloaded here.
A new report which includes a step-by-step approach to growing fodder beet, has been launched by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), AHDB and SAC Consulting as part of the Monitor Farm Scotland programme.
The report, Maximising the Potential of Fodder Beet for Livestock, includes a seven-step guide to growing fodder beet, ten helpful tips and a range of technical information and up-to-date data to assist farmers on how to successfully grow fodder beet in Scotland.
Data included in the report was harvested from a project including four monitor farms and members of their community groups from Shetland, Sutherland, Angus and the Lothians. All the farms participated in a trial growing fodder beet and the results were analysed. The project was facilitated by Kirsten Williams from SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC).
Ms Williams commented: “This restricted pool of information and lack of basic knowledge specific to fodder beet crops grown in Scotland was a challenge for Scottish livestock farmers who are growing the crop.
“Interest in the crop stems from the fact that fodder beet has the potential to provide many benefits to livestock producers in Scotland, the main one being the yield potential, which is larger than any other forage crop grown in the UK.”
Bruce McConachie, Head of Industry Development with QMS added: “The high yield has potential to make fodder beet one of the cheapest forages per kg of dry matter, as well as one of the cheapest forage per mega joule of energy due to its nutritional characteristics. This helpful guide will provide farmers with the steps needed to grow Fodder Beet which will aid their businesses and positively impact their bottom line.”
Improved grassland performance, combined with technology and a change in breed policy, has helped raise farm output and profitability at Girtridge Farm, Kilmarnock.
Girtridge Farm is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by QMS and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.
John Howie runs the 175ha farm in a family partnership with mother Margaret and sister, Mary. Since the start of the programme, the suckler cows have been sold and the focus has shifted to expanding the ewe flock and improving efficiencies across the 220-250 head of stores and finishers
Speaking at the final meeting of the three year monitor farm programme, John Howie told attendants that involvement in the initiative had helped him to make informed business decisions. As a result, net farm output has increased by 66%, whilst gross profit has risen from -12% of output to +12% of output. The farms carbon footprint has also been reduced by 26%.
John Howie commented; “I feel the business is in a better position,” he said. “Before, the farm was a family farm and that’s fine, but now it’s a business. We look at the farm’s potential and maximise output and profit off every acre.”
Rotational grazing, combined with routine liming and reseeding, has helped boost grassland performance, enabling ewe numbers to be increased from 135 to 500. This has led to a 46% increase in stocking rates to 3.75LU/ha. Lambs have also achieved daily live weight gains of 377g/day on grass alone to eight weeks.
John has also undertaken a full change in sheep breeding policy to make better use of grass. This has involved changing from Mule and Texel x ewes to predominately Aberfield x Lleyn animals. Following a trial with different terminal sires, the business has also shifted towards using Abermax tups, rather than Suffolks or Texels.
John explained: “Looking at the death register and 100 day growth rates, the Suffolks were growing the fastest but had the highest losses. The Abermax had slightly lower growth, but less losses. That’s why we went down the Abermax route.”
Silage quality has also improved, thanks to having younger leys and cutting earlier. At 11.8ME and 15% crude protein, this has helped reduce the cost of the beef finisher ration, leading to his feeders margin increasing by 0.12p/head/day. Improved ventilation in the cattle sheds and better water provision has also boosted intakes and raised growth rates. John is also choosing younger, heavier stores so they get away quicker. All this has helped lower age at slaughter from around 27 months to 22 months.
With John providing the majority of the labour on the farm himself, cattle handling had always been an issue, meaning that management tasks to help assess performance weren’t always prioritsed. Through the Monitor Farm Scotland project, the community group and management group co-designed a new cattle handling set up, that the Howies have since built. This new cattle handling set-up includes weigh bars which means that they are now able to track growth rates. Combining this with EID management tags and a UHF reader also allows paperless, automatic recording and tracking.
John said: “As we finish cattle, everyone asks which animals are best and it’s an impossible question to answer. By recording daily live weight gains, we can track feed conversion efficiencies and identify the poorer performers in our herd. That will influence the type of cattle we buy or sell. It’s about refining our system and being really efficient, especially when margins are so tight.”
Monitor Farm facilitator, Raymond Crerar from SAC Consulting said there is no doubt that the business is in a better position.
“John has significantly increased his output with minimal additional capital expenditure,” said Raymond. “He’s still farming the same land, but the efficiencies we’ve made has allowed him to increase output and profitability on the same fixed cost structure.”