The monitor farm programme, led by Quality Meat Scotland, was established in Scotland in 2003 and involves the selection of farms, typical of their area, which are supported by community groups of local farmers and facilitators. The farms host up to six community group meetings each year with the aims of improving efficiency and profitability.
The new research shows that 70% of monitor farmers progressed to undertake off-farm leadership positions, with the majority of these individuals attributing their new roles to their experience as a monitor farmer.
Among the skills farmers developed or enhanced while being involved in the programme were communication skills, analytical skills and experience in responding to challenges. Self-confidence, time management and a willingness to accept and respond to challenge from their peers were also improved.
Julian Pace at Scottish Enterprise said: “The independent review of the monitor farms we supported showed that the programme has enhanced the ability of monitor farmers to make strategic decisions in relation to their businesses, based on skills developed in record-keeping, analysis and interpretation of accounts and advice received throughout the programme from peers and advisers.”
The report also highlights the fact the programme has an impact on the personal development of members of the monitor farm community groups noting that “this sort of learning, gained by witnessing at first hand the decisions made on the monitor farm, is most powerful because it is open to debate and challenge by the community.”
There was also evidence that greater openness is promoted among the community group farmers with enhanced willingness to share information and experiences and to offer advice and support to each other.
While not all monitor farmers reported improvements to profitability as a result of their involvement in the programme, they all reported introducing changes including some which saved on labour input.
In one case this resulted in making time available to earn income away from the farm as a direct result of the monitor farm programme and the farm had doubled its profit.
The author of the review Malcolm Watson observed “All monitor farmers paid more attention to the accounts and financial performance of their business than before and former monitor farmers reported still collecting data which during the programme, they had found to be the most important to their business,”
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “The Scottish Enterprise report provides further evidence of the benefits the Monitor Farm Programme brings to Scottish farmers, and the Scottish Government is delighted to continue to support this initiative.
“We have provided around 70% of funding towards the cost of 11 new Monitor Farms across Scotland since 2008, as part of the Scotland Rural Development Programme’s Skills Development Scheme. The value of Monitor Farms to Scottish farming is estimated to be some £6.50 for every £1 spent on the initiative.”
Peter Beattie, Quality Meat Scotland’s Technical Projects Manager, said he was pleased with the report’s findings.
“We are aware of the business benefits which the monitor farm programme is delivering for the monitor farmers involved, the community groups and the wider industry through the lessons being learned. This is a win-win situation for the monitor farm and the visiting farmers who can see improvements which they can then apply to their own businesses.
“However this report indicates the benefits are much broader in terms of skills being learned and enhanced and fact the programme is clearly giving individuals the skills and confidence needed to become an industry leader and play a very significant role in the future of Scottish agriculture."