The latest Shetland Monitor Farm meeting saw another large turnout of over 40 attendees, with guest speakers John Scott from Fearn Farm and Ian Eadie from Germinal Seeds making the trip north to share their bespoke practices, knowledge and experience.
Host farmers Kirsty and Aimee Budge from Bigton Farm started the meeting, which was held at Bigton Hall, by updating those present with the farm activities over late Spring and Summer.
With the weather in Shetland said to be better than the weather in Cornwall for some of July, this has resulted in a bumper crop of silage at Bigton with more bales made than expected. The dry spell of weather also gave the girls the opportunity to make an additional 500 small square bales of hay and 180 large bales of haylage, with half of the hay bales already sold via advertising on social media.
Also at the meeting, Tain farmer John Scott spoke about his time as a monitor farmer and encouraged local farmers and crofters in get involved with the Shetland Monitor Farm programme. The Shetland 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. The aim of the programme, which is funded by Scottish Government, is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.
Mr Scott is known to many as he appeared in the hit BBC series ‘This Farming Life’ and was also crowned Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year in 2014.
At the meeting, he spoke enthusiastically about his experience of being a host monitor farm and how being part of the three-year programme had changed his farming enterprise. “Since taking part in the monitor farm programme I have gained more confidence and it has opened my mind to change within my business,” said Mr Scott.
Prior to being a Monitor Farm during 2006-2009, Fearn Farm was, by Mr Scott’s own admission, a more modest business, with 100 suckler cows and 1,000 ewes over 400 hectares and employing only one full time member of staff.
Since then the farm has expanded dramatically and today has 230 Beef Shorthorn and Luing cattle, over 5,000 ewes and an additional 1,500 hoggs. The size of the farm has increased too, and now comprises 410 hectares of owned land and 1,300 hectares of rented land as well as an additional 800 hectares of grazing agreements/contract farming that John and his family have taken on.
Mr Scott was keen to stress the important role that staff, as well as family and fellow farmers play in helping monitor farmers during the programme. Their contribution, he said, was vital to the success of the project and key in ensuring that everyone involved in the programme embraced and enjoyed the experience.
Although his time as a monitor farmer is over, Mr Scott is still involved in the Monitor Farm programme and currently chairs the Sutherland Monitor Farm Management Group. He highlighted to the Shetland community group how important it was to get involved in feeding back ideas to the monitor farm which could, in the long run benefit the wider farming community in the area.
He said: “embrace change, take opportunities, challenge yourself and others and take the little gains that will help improve the overall aims.”
Ian Eadie from Germinal Seeds then led a discussion about grass mixture options and highlighted the new grass mixtures that Kirsty and Aimee have sown at Bigton. The meeting then moved to nearby Bigton Farm so that those present could visit the reseeded fields, before returning to Bigton Hall to discuss grass variety types that best suit Shetland’s conditions. The group also discussed possible ways to deal with the leather jackets, which seemed to be a common issue for the farmers and crofters present.
The next Shetland monitor farm meeting will be held on Sunday 8th October 2017, with sheep the hot topic of discussion as the crucial tupping period approaches. Kirsty and Aimee are also hoping to discuss 2017’s harvest results with the group.
To book your attendance (and lunch!) please contact the project facilitator Graham Fraser, SAC Consulting Lerwick on 01595 693520 by or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.qmscotland.co.uk or cereals.ahdb.org.uk.