2013 Award Winners
After a lenghty search for the best in Scottish agriculture we found two winners - having witnessed the excellent credentials displayed by two top candidates we were unable to separate them....................
John Scott of Fearn Farm by Tain
John is the fourth generation of his family to farm at Fearn and it is his intention that his children will follow in his footsteps. He sees himself as the custodian and it is his duty to hand the farm over in as good or better heart than when he inherited it.
John receiving his Award plaque from Sir Andrew Cubie at the Quality Scotland Award Day ceremony.
Fearn Farm comprises just over 1000 acres with additional renting of 300 acres of nearby grass hill plus a 700 acre block near Helmsdale in Sutherland.
Performance recorded rams are produced and sold from a flock of 200 stud Texel and Suffolk ewes. Rams are not dressed or fed prior to sale and buyers acquire sheep that will perform. 3500 ewes produce prime lambs which are finished on high clover content grasses and with minimal supplementary feeding. A techo grazing system involving rotation round a clover/plantain/chicory mix has been introduced with considerable potential for weight gain.
Performnce recorded Beef Shorthorns and Aberdeen Angus cows are farmed alongside some crossbreeds and bulls. Anything not sold for breeding is finished on farm using home grown cereals and forage. New Zealand Beef Shorthorn cow embryos are being implanted this year which will give new genetics geared to perform well on a grass based system.
Winter Barley is grown as an entry for stubble turnips and provides feed and straw for the livestock. Spring Barley is grown for malting followed by stubble turnips or rye grass to provide winter feed for sheep. This rotation reduces the need for artificial fertilizers. Ground is let out to a local potato grower who has built a cold store on adjacent land. The Fearn Farm wind turbines provide power for this store and surplus potatoes are used as stock feed - a mutually beneficial partnership.
By way of diversification the building of low cost housing for local first time buyers is planned - to be built on poor quality land and using solar power for heating. 3000m of hedging will be planted amongst other wild life enhancing measures. In 2011 the farm hosted the U.K. International sheep dog trials and next year the World trials , involving over 25 countries, will be held at Fearn.
Robert Neill of Upper Nisbet Farm, Jedburgh
In their own words this is an account of the Upper Nisbet operation.
Robert receiving his Award Plaque from Sir Andrew Cubie at The Quality Scotland Award Day ceremony.
Robert and Jacqueline Neill took over the tenancy of Upper Nisbet farm, Jedburgh, in May 2000. It is part of the Lothian Estate which is owned by Lord and Lady Lothian. The farm originally stretched over 830 acres but in November 2000 they took over another 170 acres on a neighouring farm. Then in May 2007 another 100 acres were added when another neighbour retired. Another 200 acres of seasonal grazing is also rented on a neighbouring farm. This gives the business just over 1300 acres in a ring fenced block. We employ two full time members of staff and a part time student.
The beef enterprise is based on 300 Limousin cows which are put back to a Limousin bull. All the progeny are finished on the farm using home grown produce. The steers are sold at any point from 14 months old up to 24 months and the heifers from 18 to 24 months. All cattle are handled through our handling system which we designed and built ourselves. This includes a hydraulic squeeze crush from New Zealand which incorporates automatic three way shedding gates which were also our own design. The safety of staff and animals is paramount through the handling set up.
In order to run a profitable beef enterprise one of the most important factors is the health of our herd. When selecting bulls for breeding we closely analyse their EBV values in order to minimise calving difficulties and maximise growth potential.
We have been a member of the SAC Premium Health Scheme since 2005 which involves annually blood testing all breeding stock over 24 months of age to screen for Johne's disease. We have also been testing for BVD since 2004, initially as part of a pilot scheme run by the Scottish Government and facilitated by SAC vets.
We maintain a closed herd with the only exception being the purchase of stock bulls. Any bulls brought on to the farm are quarantined for the specific length of time and blood tested for Johne's and BVD before mixing with any other stock. We aim to purchase any bulls from accredited herds which are also members of the Premium Health Scheme.
Our replacement heifers are bred at our family run dairy farm which is also a member of the Premium Health Scheme and they carry out the same testing and vaccination programme as we do.
We have invested in tissue sampling tags for all calves born in 2013 in order to further control BVD.
In 2007 we voluntarily started to electronically tag all new born calves and replacement heifers. The majority of the stock on our holding are now tagged electronically. The EID enables us to capture data accurately as well as making handling and weighing cattle more efficient and safer for livestock and staff. This innovative move has not only allowed us to better manage the stock, it has positioned us favourably for any future compulsory legislation in this area. We have worked closely with tag manufacturers, the software developers and the company supplying the weighing equipment in order for all aspects of the system to work seamlessly ttogether.
Another ara of our business which we monitor closely is feed costs. We are fortunate that we are able to grow all the cereals and pulses that we feed to our cattle. However as the market price of these cerealls changes we can adapt the diets of our animals to minimise costs and maximise profitability.
During the last 15 years we have been able to gather information on daily live weight gain for all animals on the holding as a result of the weigh bars and software programme. This provides us with the information we require to modify diets in order to maximise output. We had taken the advice of nutritionists when preparing diets in order to make sure we are providing all the necessary products for essential growth.
This data also allows us to analyse data on individual stock bulls to make sure they are performing as expected.
On the arable side we grow about 650 acres of cereals with crops of winter barley, winter wheat, spring barley and beans. We also look after 350 acres of cereals for a neighbour.
Extensive work has taken place in our farm steading since 2000 including the most recent addition which is a 3,000t capacity grain store with drying facilities and weighbridge.
In 2011 we bacame SAC's Climate Change Arable Focus farms. This is a three year study which will involve a number of meetings being held on our farm or locally to discuss the ways in which farmers can minimise their environmental impact. The benefit to our business is to make us more aware of the direct impact of our farm on the environment but also to be more efficient, reduce costs and be prepared for future challenges.
With a growing world population we are confident there is a good future for the beef industry in Scotland. But improving efficiency and reducing costs will be vital (especially if EU support payments are phased out) to maintain profitability. In the longer term we would also like to expand our business by increasing the area of land we farm and expanding our beef enterprise. We would like to offer a sustainable business for our two sons if they decide to become farmers.
Robert is a director of the Royal Highland Education Trust and we are keen to encourage yougsters to visit farms to understand where and how thei food is produced.
Robert has recently been awarded a Nuffield Scholarship. During the next 12-18 months he will spend time travelling to Canada, Australia and South America to study cattle EID.