The Monitor Farm Scotland programme has just passed its first anniversary. So what has it achieved in that time?
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
|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