Six host farmers have agreed to take part in the Monitor Farm Legacy initiative which runs until July 2021. Their farm projects – the earliest of which dates from 2003 – will be revisited to update the farming industry on their progress.
Funded by the Scottish Government, and jointly managed by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), the initiative will deliver a series of virtual events featuring each of the six Monitor Farms. These will give the host farmer and their local community group an opportunity to review and reflect on the positive business changes and on-going projects that have lasted beyond their previous involvement with the Monitor Farm Programme.
A series of case studies about each farm will reflect on the themes that were most relevant to their business including: herd and flock productivity, environmental management, diversification, and succession. Virtual events including a farm tour, field ‘walk & talk’, webinars, Facebook live events and podcasts will be used to let everyone know about the work being done at each farm. Carbon audits and an Integrated Land Management Plan are also part of the programme.
Hugh Broad from Woodhead, Gifford in East Lothian commented: “We became a Monitor Farm in 2007 and were one of the first arable farms to participate in the programme. I am a great believer in the value of evidence led learning and peer review as it helps inform decision making.
“Constructive criticism is a benefit for our business and there is always more to be learnt so the opportunity to revisit the Monitor Farm programme and look at what else we can improve on is one we couldn’t turn down. We are looking forward to sharing what we learn this time round with the wider farming community.”
Strategic, operational and management groups will be established to review and develop the key aims and objectives of the programme, from setting out KPIs to conducting a six-monthly review of the legacy programme.
Beef and sheep farmer Robbie Newlands from Cluny Farm near Forres highlights: “Our original management group continued to meet after the Monitor Farm Programme ended eight years ago. There is a dozen of us and it is all very informal and has become more of a social group. We meet up when we can and visit each other’s farms to look around to see what each of us is doing and offer advice and constructive criticism. Joining the legacy programme will hopefully encourage more local farmers to get involved and benefit from access to the group.”
Chris Leslie, Knowledge Exchange Manager, AHDB said: ”The monitor farm programme has allowed Scottish farmers to benefit from its ‘farmer led and farmer driven’ focus and we are delighted to be able to work with some of our previous monitor farmers again. The opportunity to revisit what has been done previously and look forward to what more can be done will offer a fresh approach for each farming enterprise.”
Bruce McConachie, Head of Industry Development at QMS said: “With the launch of the new legacy farms across Scotland there is an opportunity to build on the success achieved to date and for the industry to play a role in the transformational change of farm and rural business in Scotland which will help meet the challenges ahead.”
A new Monitor Farm Hub will be developed as part of the programme. It will provide an online platform and act as a valuable tool for knowledge transfer to support farmers in Scotland.
The former monitor farms selected to be part of the legacy initiative, funded by the Scottish Government, include:
- Robbie Newlands, Cluny Farm
- Andrew Baillie, Carstairs Mains Farm (Carstairs)
- Iain MacKay, Torloisk Farm (Mull)
- Kenny Adams, Torhousekie Farm, (Wigtown)
- Andrew Booth, Savock Farm (Ellon)
- Hugh Broad, Woodhead (East Lothian)
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.”
As a new and ambitious farm business, involvement in the Monitor Farm programme has provided the technical support to drive sustainable expansion at Clonhie Farm, Nithsdale.
Over the three-year programme, Andrew and Aileen Marchant have drawn on the advice of the Monitor Farm network to boost output per hectare. This has led to improvements in grassland management, resulting in an 18% uplift in dry matter yield per hectare,and allowed ewe stocking rates to be increased by 30% and a herd of deer to be introduced. The farm’s carbon footprint has subsequently dropped by 25%.
“The Monitor Farm programme has given us a better understanding of how to intensify our business sustainably and in a profitable manner,” explained Mr Marchant at the final meeting of the programme.
Clonhie 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.
The Marchants started out as new entrants in 2012. Since then, they have undergone rapid expansion on the 300ha farm, which is owned by the Buccleuch Estate. Having started with 12 sheep, they now have a flock of 1,000 ewes, 30 pedigree Luing cows and 175 red deer.
Throughout the Monitor Farm programme, the family has adopted a multi-pronged approach to increasing performance. This has focused on grassland management and ewe genetics.
Lime has been applied to some of the farm’s best ground to raise soil pH and grassland has been improved by direct drilling. Rape and kale are now used as an entry for a full grass reseed, whilst providing cost-effective winter keep.
Rotational grazing, rather than set-stocking, has also benefited grass yields. Deferred grazing, where grassland is shut up from the end of August until January/February, has proved a revelation and reduced the cost of keeping ewes in condition through the winter.
Mr Marchant explained: “When we tested the grass on 21st January, crude protein was 21% at 11.2ME. To buy that level of concentrate would be expensive. It’s been a real eye opener for everyone in the group.”
Better grass quality has reduced concentrate requirements and subsequently costs, although Mr Marchant explained that he is not afraid to feed, as long as the sums add up.
“We’re a lot more targeted with feed and fertiliser now. I’ve always had the mentality that everything we do has to show a return, but we’re a bit more thorough and more scientific. We’ve just upped our game,” Mr Marchant added.
A change in ewe breeding policy is also part of the farm’s long-term goals to make better use of forage and improve output. The Marchants have now closed the flock and are moving away from North Country Cheviot x Lleyns and Texel x ewes to Aberfields and Highlanders. Targeted culling is also being adopted to ensure they only breed replacements from the best animals. This was also identified as a crucial strategy to reduce lameness.
Having faced ‘The Beast from The East’ in 2018 and identified triclabendazole resistance in ewes the following season, lambing percentages are yet to improve. However, Mr Marchant is confident about the future. “We expect to see benefits on the bottom line in the next 2-3 years. We’re very positive and happy about where we are,” he said.
Programme facilitator, Judith Hutchinson, said the farm had made big strides by addressing numerous small things that created a “multiplier effect”.
“It’s multifactorial. I believe Andrew is on the brink of taking off. I think there will be considerable improvements in financial performance, productivity, sustainability and environmental footprint over the next few years,” she told the group.
The ability to draw on the support of industry experts and the Shetland Islands farming community, has been the main benefit of the Monitor Farm programme for Kirsty and Aimee Budge.
“It’s given us tonnes of support and helped with how we make business decisions,” said Aimee at the recent final meeting of the three-year programme. “The Monitor Farm Programme has made us look at our costs in greater detail and how we can reduce them so our business is more profitable.”
Kirsty and Aimee run 350 Shetland x Cheviot ewes, 200 pure Shetland ewes and 90 Saler and Shorthorn cows at Bigton Farm. The 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 farming and crofting businesses.
With farmers and crofters on Shetland facing some unique challenges, coming together through regular monitor farm meetings has helped with knowledge sharing and collaboration within the community. The initiative has brought all ages of the farming and crofting community together to find solutions to tackle key issues. Through the meetings, Aimee recognised a need to support fellow young farmers on the Islands and has subsequently set up The Shetland Young Farmers Club, which now has 35 members.
Kirsty told farmers and crofters attending the final meeting at Bigton Hall that the technical support available through the monitor farms network has enabled them to make big changes.
She explained how the pair have started using a plate meter to monitor grass and rotationally paddock graze, which has increased grass yields. This, together with taking on an additional 500-acre block of rented land, has allowed the business to increase suckler numbers by 20 and ewes by 310 head. This has gone hand-in-hand with starting to breed their own replacements.
At the beginning of the programme it was recognised that more needed to be done to help market smaller, traditionally lower value Shetland lambs from the Islands. The Shetland Hill Lamb Group has subsequently been set-up and lambs marketed for export to Europe for the Christmas markets. This has increased value by about £10-12/lamb.
Aimee said this developing market gave them confidence to take on the Shetland ewes as they knew they had an outlet for the pure lambs. Kirsty added: “The price was so poor before, but through this group you can add value to the product and it makes it worthwhile.”
Lambs from the crossbred flock are now sold deadweight, which has also increased returns. Selling beef direct to the consumer through a box scheme has also proved worthwhile.
Lambing losses from scanning to weaning have also reduced from 26% to 13% by grazing ewes and lambs on alternative grazing, away from cliff edges. The number of calves weaned has also increased from 81% to 93%. The aim is to increase weaning percentage further to dilute the business’s relatively high machinery costs. They’re also looking to out-winter in-calf heifers for an extra month by improving deferred grazing management.
The Budges also spoke about their involvement in a trial looking to improve barley yields on the Islands. The farm is one of a handful of barley producers on Shetland and receives significant income from selling grain in the area. Through the monitor farm programme they grew two acres of Salome barley and increased nitrogen inputs. However, having not applied a growth regulator, the crop lodged. Aimee explained that this was a learning curve and that they would trial it again this year with half the amount of nitrogen and ensure a growth regulator is applied.
Shetland Monitor Farm programme facilitator, SAC’s Graham Fraser, added: “Shetland as a whole has benefited from seeing what Bigton is doing and lots of farmers have taken bits home to give them a go. It’s helped encourage folk to be much more open about their own businesses and encouraged a much clearer exchange of ideas and experiences in Shetland.”
Local crofter, John A Abernethy, a regular attendee of the Shetland Monitor Farm meetings, told farmers and crofters attending the final meeting that the technical support available through the monitor farm network has enabled him to make major changes to his crofting business.
John commented: “The expertise we have been able to tap into through the programme has given us the confidence to go ahead and try new things.”
In 2019 John decided to change his system entirely, selling off his cross ewes and switching to Shetland ewes. He went out and bought hill ewes in the autumn of 2019 that were smaller, at an average of 35kgs.
Without the cross ewes there is a much-reduced demand for winter fodder and John is aiming to reduce the silage area from 11.1ha down to 2ha. This will cut his winter fodder from around 200 bales in an average year, to around 50 bales in future. This, combined with rotational grazing introduced in 2018 through advice gained from the Monitor Farm programme, will reduce his winter fodder costs from around £8,000 down to around £2,000.
“Communication and discussion at the Shetland monitor farm meetings has encouraged all participants to be much more open about their business,” added John
Being part of the Monitor Farm programme has been a huge success for the Stodart family at Mill of Inverarity farm, Inverarity, Forfar. They have changed just about everything on their farm for the better and become more profitable as a result.
Robert and Alison Stodart farm alongside their son Rory, with the support of his two siblings. They have a mixed farming business comprising of 125 breeding cattle, 300 finishing cattle, 700 breeding sheep, 4500 free range laying hens, and 287HA of arable land where spring barley, winter wheat, winter oilseed rape, turnips and fodder beet are grown.
Alison Stodart said: “Our farming business has changed out of all recognition since we became involved with the monitor farm programme in 2016. Our farm is a totally different place now to when we started and the process has given us all a lot of confidence as a family and how we work together. We have become more professional as farmers, it’s not just a way of life anymore, it is a business.
“The input and advice we have received from other farmers has been invaluable and has made our business more resilient. Being a monitor farmer has given us the confidence to change the way we do things. It has encouraged us to become better at planning ahead and as a result we have a much more structured crop rotation and marketing strategy in place; and have improved the fertility of our cattle.”
Mill of Inverarity is part of the Monitor Farm Scotland initiative, managed by Quality Meat Scotland (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.
Chris Leslie, Knowledge Exchange Manager (Arable) for AHDB in Scotland, said: “Traditionally the focus on the farm was more livestock orientated but the Stodarts have realised that fully integrating the enterprises brings benefits on both sides. They have had the whole farm soil mapped in the last three years with the help of Soil Essentials and they have brought the ph up to where it needs to be. As a result of this they have seen dramatically improved yields from their arable crops.”
Facilitator David Ross, from SAC Consulting, said: “Having facilitated the meetings over the last three years I have witnessed the ups and downs of the project and seen the business improve in both the livestock and arable enterprises. I would encourage all with an interest in improving their farm business to attend the final meeting which will look back at what has been learned and also to look forward to where the Stodart family want to take their business in the future.”
The Monitor Farm meeting will take place on Thursday 27 at Forfar Mart, 48 St John Street, Forfar, DD8 3EZ from 10.30 to 2.30.
The event is free of charge but please book a place by contacting SAC Consulting by phone 01569 762305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Angus monitor farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established around Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. It is 100 per cent funded by Scottish Government through the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund.
For more information about the monitor farm programme, visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk.
The final North Ayrshire Monitor Farm meeting, to be held at Girtridge Farm, Dundonald on Friday 28 February, will provide a valuable opportunity for the local farming community to hear about the impact of changes implemented over the three-year programme.
The 140-hectare enterprise, Girtridge Farm, run by John Howie in partnership with his mother and sister, has benefited from changes made during the programme, including the introduction of rotational grazing, modifying their cattle finishing system and increasing their sheep flock from 135 to 500.
Mr Howie said: “The Monitor Farm Project has really opened our eyes to the true potential of our farm, we have been able to focus on maximising every acre in terms of efficiency and profitability.
“The expertise we have been able to tap into has given us the confidence to go ahead and try new things. Through improved grazing and grassland management, we have been able to finish stock quicker and reduce feed costs, and as a result our business is in a much better position than when we started the project three years ago.” he commented.
At the final meeting, QMS Chair, Kate Rowell will talk about her time as a monitor farmer, and her experience since finishing the programme and the positive effect it has had on her farming business.
Raymond Crerar , North Ayrshire Monitor Farm Facilitator from SAC Consulting, said: “There has been tremendous support from the community group whose enthusiasm and innovative ideas have driven the success of this project at Girtridge.
“I would encourage all with an interest in improving their farm business to attend the final meeting which will look back at what has been learned and also to look forward to where the Howie family want to take their business in the future.”
The North Ayrshire Monitor Farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established across Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.
The final meeting at Girtridge Farm on Friday 28 February will begin at 10.30am. The meeting will also look at future options for the farm and aim to finish at 3:00pm. All are welcome and the event is free.
For catering purposes, those interested in coming along should confirm attendance by calling 01292 525252 or emailing FBSAyr@sac.co.uk
Farmers in the Lothians are invited to attend the final meeting of the Lothians monitor farm project on 4th February on the Preston Hall Estate, Pathhead.
At the meeting, monitor farmer Bill Gray from Preston Hall and Peter Eccles from Saughland Farm, will share key learnings, demonstrate the positive impact of the project and share what they plan to do in the future to demonstrate how they have benefited from their involvement in the three-year Monitor Farm project.
The final meeting will take place from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm and is open to everyone with an interest in farming and rural businesses. It will report on what has been achieved through the implementation of key initiatives including benchmarking and on-farm trials.
Chris Leslie, Knowledge Exchange Manager (Arable) for the AHDB in Scotland, said: “What Bill and Peter wanted from their involvement with the Monitor Farm Programme was to develop a blueprint of how collaboration should work between farms. They have integrated their businesses by applying a holistic approach to agricultural regeneration, sharing their resources to integrate livestock with arable and provide support to both farms year-round.”
Funded by Scottish Government and managed as a joint initiative by QMS and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds, the aim of the Monitor Farm Project is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.
Bill Gray said: “When we took up the challenge three years ago of joining the Monitor Farm programme we focused on arable farming with the majority of our pasture and grazing land farmed in collaboration with neighbouring farmers. We are now reaping the benefits of working collaboratively with Saughland Farm as we have been able to streamline the core arable business, whilst maintaining the benefits of having livestock on the farm and providing a habitat rich in wildlife.”
Facilitator, Colin MacPhail from CA MacPhail Consulting Ltd., said: “The final meeting will be a great opportunity to reflect on the impact of the project and share key learnings. We will provide an update from the farmers, discuss project milestones and then head up to see the collaboration field with the outwintered cattle. The meeting theme will be focused on collaboration and how we move forward and maximise the impact of the project.”
Iain Davidson of the Scottish Land Matching Service, Kate Rowell, Chair of Quality Meat Scotland, Claire Taylor from The Scottish Farmer and Neil Wilson from SAB Advisory, will all take part in a panel session in the afternoon, giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions and discuss key topics and industry issues.
The final meeting will take place on Tuesday 4th February, at Rosemains Farm, Tynehead, Pathhead EH37 5UG at 10.30 am (tea and coffee from 10am) followed by a farm Visit to Pitscave to view the Cattle Outwintering Project, followed by lunch at the Stair Arms EH37 5TX where the afternoon sessions and panel discussion until 3.30 pm will take place. To help with catering, please book by contacting email@example.com, or call 077470 46461
The Lothians monitor farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established around Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. It is 100% funded by Scottish Government through the Knowledge Transfer and Innovation fund.
For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk