8th March 2016

Forth Monitor Farm Highlights Benefits of Changes

This month saw the final meeting of the Forth Monitor Farm and the end of a very valuable three year programme, according to host farmer Duncan McEwen.

Over 30 farmers attended the meeting at Arnprior Farm, near Kippen in Stirlingshire last week to hear about the changes that have been made to the farm business since the Quality Meat Scotland Monitor Farm programme began there in 2013.

Mr McEwen, who farms in partnership with his mother and father, Anne and Duncan McEwen, has made several changes at the 325ha Arnprior Farm near Kippen, including doubling ewe numbers from 500 to 1000 and a plan to further expand to 1500 ewes over the next couple of years.

Mr McEwen said that being a monitor farmer gave him the opportunity learn a lot from like-minded farmers and the experts and professionals he had access to.

One expert that particularly inspired Mr McEwen was New Zealand sheep genetics specialist Murray Rohloff. That not only spurred him on to introduce rotational grazing to his own system, but also led to a three week working holiday to New Zealand, where he met other inspirational farmers.

He commented: "This isn't New Zealand, but we can still learn a lot from their production systems, and adapt at least some of their ideas and techniques to our farms in Scotland."

Since coming home Mr McEwen’s focus for the business has been on producing sheep which thrive on a forage-based system. He introduced Aberfield cross Cheviots to his predominantly Scotch Mule ewe flock and is delighted with his first crop of lambs which were born last year. He has also changed from selling at the market to selling deadweight so he can get feedback regarding the carcase and also animal health.

Arnprior grows 90ha of a variety of crops and, as a result of soil testing, has benefitted from a targeted approach to fertiliser instead of the previous blanket coverage. Mr McEwen is already spending less on nitrogen for the grassland thanks to the rotational grazing system which means the clover has time to regenerate and do its job more effectively.

Another change that Mr McEwen made at Arnprior was to sell his suckler cow herd. It was not an easy decision to part with his 75 suckler cows and he persevered throughout most of the three years of the programme, trying to find a system which suited his farm. The last of his cattle are due to leave the farm this summer and Mr McEwen intends to house overwintered cattle on a B&B basis in the future to utilise his sheds and any excess silage he may produce.

Mr McEwen was quick to emphasise that he is not against cattle production but the reality at Arnprior is that high rainfall and wet summers mean that housing cattle for seven months of the year is necessary to prevent damage to grassland. He said: "Through the monitor farm process we made large gains towards achieving all the QMS production targets for conception rates, calves reared, and kg of beef per cow, but the realisation that I could not reduce costs any further for this farm made me take the final step."

Mr McEwen has found the whole Monitor Farm experience incredibly worthwhile not only as a tool to scrutinise every aspect of his business and improve on it, but also for personal development. His enthusiasm for the meetings and thirst for more knowledge led him to take part in Scottish Enterprise's Rural Leadership Scheme last year, which he thoroughly enjoyed and feels he benefitted from.

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