Scotland Office Minister John Lamont has been visiting parts of South West Scotland looking at how digital innovation funded by more than £21 million of UK Government investment is helping to grow the rural economy.

Minister Lamont took a tour of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) Barony Campus near Dumfries to understand how the cash boost from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is supporting the milk industry by bolstering the Digital Dairy Chain.

He also called in at nearby Barnbackle Farm, part of the Monitor Farm Scotland Initiative, and one of nine farms involved in a four-year programme to improve sector productivity, profitability and sustainability.

Minister Lamont said:

 “The UK Government is proud to support the United Kingdom’s £127billion food and farming sector as we recognise that British farmers produce some of the highest-quality food in the world and contribute billions to our economy.

“Driving forward new farming schemes like the Digital Dairy Value Chain is exactly where we need to be to ensure the sector remains profitable and sustainable. It’s vital as we build on the commitment to keep producing 60 per cent of the food we consume here in the UK.”

Investment from UKRI’s Strength in Place Fund has been ploughed into SRUC to examine how dairy farmers can best capitalise on the 1.9billion litres of milk produced in the area. The Digital Dairy Value Chain will provide world-class opportunities for research and business innovation in advanced, sustainable, high-value dairy processing.

The five-year project will deliver advanced manufacturing processes to help businesses to develop new products and explore new markets. It’s hoped to create more than 600 new jobs while contributing £60million to the local economy by attracting large dairy processors, boosting industry-focussed research.

Minister Lamont added: “This UK Government investment will really put the area on the world map as a leader in advanced, sustainable, and digitally-connected dairy manufacturing.

“It will offer farmers, processors and producers in the dairy supply chain a valuable resource for support, business development and industry expertise to take the sector from strength to strength and increase the opportunity for growth.”

Professor Wayne Powell, Principal and Chief Executive of Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) said: “We were delighted to welcome Mr Lamont to tell him more about the innovative work of the Digital Dairy Chain. Led by SRUC, this hugely exciting project is an excellent example of an innovation cluster, focused on developing digital connectivity, stimulating research, new high-value product development, supporting business growth and attracting talent and skills across South & West Scotland and Cumbria.

“We will soon open the second round of the collaborative R&D funding competition with a pot of £1 million, which is an outstanding opportunity for industry and academia to unite and continue to transform the dairy sector.” 

At the Dumfries Monitor Farm Barnbackle, Minister Lamont heard from the Currie family who run the 500-acre site. With 150 suckler cows, 20 store cattle, and 700 ewes, the family face challenges common to many farmers, including rising feed prices. Looking at solutions including rotational grazing is something the Monitor Farm Programme will support.

Beth Alexander, Monitor Farm Scotland Programme Manager said: “We were delighted to welcome Minister Lamont to the Dumfriesshire Monitor Farm and showcase the work we are doing on one of the nine farms in the programme with rotational grazing, sheep management strategies, and upcoming projects like the 2024 lambing initiative in collaboration with the local vet practice.

“The Monitor Farm programme is farmer-led, farmer-driven and aims to enhance the profitability, productivity, and sustainability of Scotland’s agricultural sector. Through practical demonstrations and the exchange of best practices, we use farmer expertise to progress the industry and address challenges. This visit presents an excellent opportunity for farmers to engage directly with government and share their issues.”


Farming agreements – a match made in acres. Find your match at the Roxburghshire Monitor Farm winter meeting. 

As part of the Roxburghshire Monitor Farm project, the farming community is invited to a panel discussion evening, about farming agreements, being held at the Buccleuch Arms in St. Boswells on Wednesday 21st February at 7pm.  

Roxburghshire Monitor Farmer, Robert Wilson will kick off the meeting with an update on his Monitor Farm journey and his business aims for 2024 and beyond. Attendees will then hear from specialists and farmers involved with various farming agreements, to find out how different options work, and what might work best for their business.  

Robert said: “With changes coming to agreements over some of the land we farm, we’ve benefited from being able to discuss how best we might approach these, within our Monitor Farm management group. We’re delighted to welcome farmers to share their story about how different approaches to partnerships and agreements have been utilised. This will help others navigate change and hopefully provide thoughts on an alternative point of access to those looking to develop within the agricultural sector.” 

Speakers at the event will include farmers Annabel Hamilton, Robert Playfair-Hannay, and Ali Freeland-Cook, along with the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society’s (SAOS) David Michie. 

Annabel, along with her family, manages 2,700 acres (1,093ha) on the East Berwickshire coast.  The business mainly operates under contract farming agreements and relies on trust with landowners, as well as robust financial decisions.  

In the Borders, Robert Playfair-Hannay runs a beef, sheep, and arable enterprise in partnership with his parents. The operation covers 4,300 acres (1,740ha), carrying 400 head of Aberdeen Angus, Angus crosses and Beef Shorthorn suckler cows, as well as 1,500 North Country Cheviot sheep and 600 acres of arable cropping.  In addition, they run a 750 acre (304ha) arable unit in Fife, which also houses bed and breakfast pigs. There are two full time employees and three to four seasonal staff.  

Farmer, Ali Freeland-Cook, oversees six farms with various contract farming agreements and 5,200 lambing ewes plus 450 lambing ewe hoggs. Around 1,200 ewes lamb indoors in late Feb/March, with the remainder lambing outside on various grazing systems. 140 Hereford x Salers suckler cows help to diversify the enterprise.  Ali also manages a machinery contracting business, involving woodland work, road building for harvest traffic, drainage, shed preparation, and silage contracting as well as grass and fodder crop establishment. 

SAOS Co-op Development Manager, David Michie helps to develop co-op businesses, and supports farmers with knowledge transfer.  

Jack Frater, a member of the Monitor Farm management group at Cowbog in Roxburghshire and Agricultural Consultant at Edwin Thompson, will chair the panel meeting. Jack is involved with all aspects of farm and estate management, including overseeing in-hand farming operations, management and administration of contract farming agreements, financial planning, and subsidy claim submissions. Jack grew up on the family farm near Alnwick in Northumberland and has a wealth of practical livestock and arable farming knowledge and experience. 

Monitor Farm Regional Advisor, Maura Wilson said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for the farming community to join. It will be great to hear from speakers with such experience and I encourage farmers to attend and to get involved and ask as many questions as you can.” 


The Strathspey Monitor Farm meeting planned for Wednesday, 21st February at Auchernack Farm, on body condition scoring,

has been POSTPONED, due to unforeseen circumstances.

It’s been rescheduled for Wednesday 18th September, 2024

We hope to see you then.

If you’ve any questions, please call or email.

Kind regards, Peter Beattie

North Regional Adviser

07769 366614

South Ayrshire Monitor Farm OPEN Meeting
Rowanston Farm, Crosshill, KA19 7PY
10am – 2pm
Free to attend and includes lunch at the Carrick Centre

·How do you manage and minimize sheep lameness on your farm – Marion McMillan (BVMS CertAVP(Sheep) MRCVS) SRUC·Feeding root crops – view finishing hoggs on swedes with an overview by Gavin Stewart (Agrii)·Benefits of electronic weighing cattle on farm – demo by Alison Fergus of Datamars ·To farm well, you need to live well – Farmstrong Scotland

Being much more specific about recording lamb losses at one of Scotland’s Monitor Farms has prompted an innovative new lambing health project.

With lambing being one of the busiest and intensive periods on a livestock farm, there often isn’t time to take stock of what is happening until long after the event. And when lambing is less successful than hoped, it can be difficult to identify why.

While it can be disheartening to even think about recording ewe or lamb deaths and the reasons for them, attendees at a recent Monitor Farm Scotland meeting at Wallets Marts in Castle Douglas heard how it had helped identify issues on-farm, and prompted action to tackle them, as well as inspiring a new research project.

Meeting attendees heard that Dumfriesshire Monitor Farmer Richard McCornick and his family, who run the 200ha (500-acre) beef and sheep unit at Barnbackle, had used data to identify flock performance issues. Sheep numbers have increased this year with 800 ewes and 150 ewe lambs to the tup this autumn, so there is a particular focus on improving performance. The farm’s Integrated Land Management Plan, produced by SAC Consulting as part of the first year of this Monitor Farm programme, highlighted lambing losses as an area for attention.

As a result, a flock tally sheet recording losses on a whiteboard in the lambing shed helped the farm identify the main causes of loss. To tackle these, Richard is going to focus on ewe nutrition and health, colostrum quality and lamb immunity.

It has also led to a deeper investigation into colostrum quality and failure to transfer passive immunity from ewe to lambs. The collaborative project between Monitor Farm Scotland, Livestock Health Scotland and run by The Stewartry Veterinary Centre and University of Glasgow, will involve a holistic approach, says vet and researcher Ali Haggerty, who is Barnbackle’s vet.

“We will be looking at ewe body condition score and nutrition, then sampling ewe colostrum and blood testing their lambs to see how that marries up, as well as investigating lamb deaths.”

The ultimate aim of the project is simple; to increase lamb survival rates, producing more lambs for sale, she says.

“The whiteboard at Barnbackle highlighted that quite a lot of the lamb losses were around lambing, from things such as watery mouth or joint ill. Lambs are born without any antibodies, so they rely on that first few hours of receiving colostrum from their mother for immunity to disease in the first few weeks of life. We think that if we can look at improving their immunity, we will have more, healthier lambs on the ground.”

While she cautions that the study will only be a snapshot in time, she says there are some key areas of focus.

Looking at ewe nutrition will be key, assessed through consistent body condition scoring throughout the year and metabolic profiling at key times, particularly two to three weeks before the start of lambing. This will look at whether the available feed is adequate and being utilised fully by ewes. This is vital to produce enough high quality colostrum to feed their lambs in the first few hours of life.

“The lamb’s gut is only permeable to the antibodies from colostrum for the first six to twelve hours of life. By 24 hours old, the channels in the gut wall have closed completely, so colostrum at that time will not be absorbed into the body and provide local gut immunity at best. It’s also a high fat product, which is crucial for lambing outside – providing energy to keep warm. There is a lot in it to give lambs the best start, so proper colostrum management is important,” she says.

Taking colostrum samples from ewes, and later, blood samples from their lambs will assess whether the lamb has  adequate passive transfer of immunity. All of that data, plus details of the ewe and her lambing performance collected by vets and vet students, will be collated, with results expected to be available in early summer.

“We aren’t changing too much on the farm this year and in the run up to lambing as we want to capture what is going on and to be able to assess that. While Richard lambs indoors, I expect some aspects of the results to be equally applicable to outside lambing, and I think it will focus attention on just how important colostrum is.”

Pictured Above: Ali Haggerty, Stewartry Vets and Richard McCornick, Dumfries Monitor Farmer

Project collaborators

Barnbackle is one of nine Monitor Farms across Scotland taking part in the programme run by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB and funded by Scottish Government. This aims to help farms reach full economic, social, and environmental sustainability by optimising production. Over the four-year project, other farmers and experts will be brought together to help the businesses assess farm performance, explore opportunities, and develop solutions to their challenges.

Livestock Health Scotland (LHS) is a ‘not for profit’ producer-led organisation focused on building the health and welfare status of Scottish livestock. It aims to work in partnership with livestock producers and farm vets to achieve this, and also aims to be a bridge between researchers, systems experts and those operating at farm business level, creating a pathway for innovation.

LHS’s activities include: Maintaining active two-way communication with producers and farm vets; providing information and technical guidance in collaboration with expert groups; supporting smarter disease management strategies at farm and national level, through biosecurity, health screening, vaccine programmes and responsible use of medicines, and; providing a pathway for innovation, data capture and adoption of best practice.

It has been a whirlwind year for Scotland’s nine Monitor Farmers and their families, as well as for the 1,375 people who have come to one of the 24 open meetings as part of the programme.

Launched at AgriScot last year, the programme is run by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB, and is fully funded by Scottish Government. It aims to help to farms reach full economic, social, and environmental sustainability by optimising production. Throughout the four years, other farmers and experts will help the business assess farm performance, explore opportunities, and develop solutions to challenges they face.

Beth Alexander, Monitor Farm Programme Manager says: “One year into the 2022-26 programme and we have a great multi-generational network of farmers, advisors and experts to discuss the challenges and showcase the opportunities in Scottish agriculture. The new and evolved programme has been well supported and thought-provoking, always leaving the attendees and the facilitation team wanting more.

“Despite the uncertainty and external influences the industry faces, the Monitor Farm network continues to seek solutions. We have covered a vast array of topics from succession, to enhancing biodiversity, to nutrition.”

Initially, all of the Monitor Farms worked through an Integrated Land Management Plan (ILMP) with SAC Consulting, highlighting the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats the individual businesses face. For Roxburghshire Monitor Farmer Robert Wilson, this led to various meetings with professional advisors. “It’s hopefully setting sound foundations to move forward with more physical improvements.”

Islay-based Argyllshire Monitor Farmer Craig Archibald adds: “Although it was challenging to gather all the information required for the Integrated Land Management Plan, it resulted in two specialist plans – one on the sheep system, the other on sustainable parasite control – which will help us focus on those areas to assess and make changes where we can.”

For the Smith family at Auchernack, the Strathspey Monitor Farmers, the ILMP made recommendations to improve resilience and profitability, with suggestions to graze more of the substantial hill ground, enhancing biodiversity and improving carbon capture.

On the Banff and Buchan Monitor Farm, Bruce Irvine has improved his cattle handling and grazing systems as a result of specialist advice as part of the programme, as well as implementing a stock health management plan and looking at farm data in much greater detail.

Gathering and using data is a key focus for Deeside Monitor Farmers Duncan and Claire Morrison. They have started using Farmax – a computer-based feed budgeting and forecasting tool with a focus on grass – to make better use of grass for their 220 sucklers and followers. “This will help us in our decision making. It will allow us to compare different scenarios to work out the impact on the farm’s resources as well as the bottom line,” Duncan explained.

Tackling emerging issues has been a key topic in this first year. For East Lothian arable Monitor Farmer Stuart McNicol, weeds, particularly brome, were an issue and added considerably to the farm’s spray bill. Stuart is planning to trial a mechanical weeder as part of a blended approach to control, and hopes this will reduce costs.

Reducing arable establishment costs have been at the fore at Rowanston, the South Ayrshire Monitor Farm, with min-till trialled as an option. Establishment was good, with fewer weed issues, and savings in time, diesel and plough metal, according to David Andrew.

The summer drought hit hard at the Dumfries Monitor Farm, but installing a solar-powered water pump as part of the Monitor Farm programme was a ‘game-changer’ at Barnbackle, said Richard McCornick. With the capability to pump to a head of 100m and to a distance of over 2km, it could take water from the farm’s ponds to multiple troughs.

On the Stirlingshire Monitor Farm, soil sampling highlighted the need for lime across Lands of Drumhead to improve soil pH. In the past, use of lime has been constrained by access issues, as the farm sits on a very narrow back road which is a struggle for bulk artic lorries, but the analysis led the Duncans to realise its importance. As a result, they built a tipping pad for bulk lime, and applied it to silage ground initially with the aim of being able to reduce fertiliser use.

Beth adds: “While the first year has involved lots of data gathering, sampling and testing, there has also been plenty of practical progress. Each Monitor Farm now has a very detailed ILMP, a supportive Management Group and options for the future.

“We are all looking forward to getting even further into the detail of each business, enterprise and field to look for further opportunities in our search for environmental, economic and social sustainability. The commitment of the nine Monitor Farms has been excellent, and I am excited to see how the businesses and their communities evolve over the four years. The farms and their communities have really captured and exemplified the ethos of ‘Farmer Led, Farmer Driven’.”

Open Meetings:  24 meetings, 1,375 attendees, 46% under 45, 27% Female  
Management groups: 34 meetings, average 16 members per group, 59% under 45, 21% female  
A Year in Numbers
Strengths: Forward thinking, keen to look at new options Enthusiastic and passionate about agriculture Multi-generational businesses Innovative and successful enterprises  Weaknesses: High power and machinery costs Do not know the cost of production for each enterprise Data collection sparse/don’t have time to review all the data collected Limited succession planning/no wills/no power of attorney documents High reliance on support payments  
Opportunities Nutrient budgeting to ensure crop and forage requirements are met Greater use of farm data to improve technical performance Improve grassland through a management programme Improve grassland management through strip/mob grazing or paddock grazing Carbon audit to reduce the business’ carbon footprint Improving livestock health planning to boost vigour and well-being Diversification to spread risk and generate higher output New technologies to enhance production and welfare   Threats Changes to future support payments Continuing high inflation rates Availability of suitably trained and experienced labour Climate change and unseasonal/extreme weather events Long term illness or injury of key family members Ongoing impact on prices linked to invasion of Ukraine by Russia  
Integrated Land Management Plan – Key Findings

Meikle Maldron, in the north east of Scotland, is run by Duncan and Claire Morrison who moved to the farm in 2016.

In total, Duncan and Claire farm 226 ha as a wholly suckler enterprise with 220 suckler cows comprising commercial Aberdeen Angus and Pedigree Aberdeen Angus and Stabilisers.

Of the 220 cows, they own 120 and lease a herd of 100 stabiliser cows. Most stabiliser bull calves are finished, some breeding heifers are sold at 12-14 months and the rest are sold as stores. The focus for this Monitor Farm is the simple system and utilising data to inform decisions.

Auchernack is an 800ac farm in the Speyside valley. The family have farmed here since 1946. Today, it is run by Malcolm Smith. He farms alongside his son Calum, who is employed full-time. Sammie, Malcolm’s wife is also a partner in the business and she runs a successful self-catering business.

Malcolm has 140 suckler cows and 120 store cattle. The focus is on store calf production using predominantly Limousin sires. For ease of management, cattle are overwintered indoors.

Calving is split with a third of the herd calving in autumn/winter and the remainder in spring.

Sauchentree Farm, at New Aberdour, on the north-east coast of Scotland, is run by Bruce Irvine in partnership with his mother.

Help at lambing comes from his art-lecturer wife, sister and brother-in-law. Their two daughters are starting to get involved in the farm. In total,

Bruce farms 650ac with cereals, sheep and cattle and believes the three enterprises are as important as each other, with livestock providing fertility for the arable side. Bruce markets their lamb and beef through Scotbeef, ANM at the mart and Woodhead and enjoys competing with neighbouring farms on yield and lambing percentage.

Bruce has been focused on dynamic health planning so far; watch now to see what he hopes to achieve through the programme.

17th January 2024

The 2022-26 Monitor Farm delegation held a fantastic couple of days of workshops, tours and talks all with the hope to inspire discussion and generate ideas to drive the focus on each Monitor Farm in the coming year. 

Interested in any of these topics – let us know in the comments so we can share these discussions wider!

Full agenda consisted of :

  1.  Maximum Sustainable Output, Chris Clark – Nethergill Associates
  2. Insights Profiling, Jan Roberts
  3. Moredun Institute with talks on ectoparasites, endoparasites, TSTs and more
  4. SRUC Easter Howgate and GreenCow