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Borders Monitor Farmers Consider Options to Drive Profitability

The Mitchell family who run the Borders Monitor Farm are considering a range of options, including switching to organic production, to drive profitability in their business.

The next monitor farm meeting on Wednesday 22 November will have the theme of “Assessing Opportunities” and provide an opportunity for farmers attending to consider different options which could potentially improve their margins.

Host farmers Robert and Lesley Mitchell along with son Stuart from Whitriggs Farm are keen to open their minds to potential opportunities as they continue to strive to improve the performance and productivity of their farm.

At the meeting, which is being held at the Auld Cross Keys Hotel in Denholm, there will be a panel of speakers to discuss the pros, cons, regulations and practical issues connected with two of the options the Mitchells have been considering with support from their management team. These are converting to organic production and the potential of introducing deer farming to their business mix.

At the meeting, which begins at 11am, Debs Roberts, Policy Manager for the Scottish Organic Producers Association (SOPA) which certifies 70% of organic farms in Scotland, will speak about the process and steps that farmers need to take in order to move towards organic conversion. She will also answer any questions farmers interested in exploring organic conversion for their own farm, may have.  Mrs Roberts is also an organic farmer in her own right, producing organic beef and cereals in keeping with an organic rotation.

Mrs Roberts will be joined by Andrew Grant, from Riddell Farms in Lilliesleaf, who has a mixed livestock and arable organic farm. Mr Grant, whose beef, sheep and arable enterprise was certified organic by the Soil Association in 2009, will share with the group his practical experiences of being an organic farmer.  

The 480 hectare Whitriggs farm near Denholm currently has 140 suckler cows and a flock of 1,000 Lleyns. With 442 hectares of mainly semi-permanent and permanent grassland and 40 hectares of winter wheat and oats, the family are able to produce the majority of feed for their own stock. 

Robert Mitchell is keen to see if there would be any advantage of Whitriggs becoming organic. “As we are able to produce good quality silage and grow our own cereals, we largely rely on home-grown feed. We are therefore intrigued to see if Whitriggs would benefit from any premium that is afforded by being certified organic,” he said.

The family have also been researching the possibility of diversifying into deer farming and John Goffin, Farm Manager at Arniston Estate in Gorebridge, which has an established deer herd, will give a presentation on the practicalities of moving into deer farming, as well as a summary of the market potential and the future prospects for venison production in the UK.

Whitriggs farm is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting on 22 November will be held at the Auld Cross Keys Hotel at Denholm, TD9 8NU and will begin at 11am. Lunch will be provided and the meeting is expected to finish by 3.30pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

For catering purposes, those interested in coming along on 22 November should confirm attendance with Stephen Young, one of the project facilitators, on 07502 339613 or email stephen.young@saos.coop.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk