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New Sutherland Monitor Farm Announced

The family whose farm has been selected as the new Sutherland monitor farm is looking forward to the challenge of being involved in the initiative and the potential to take their farm business to a new level.

Clynelish Farm, near Brora in Sutherland, has been announced today (Nov 30th November 2016) as one of nine new monitor farms which are being established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds.

The 125-hectare farm is run by Jason Ballantyne and his wife Vic, in partnership with Jason’s dad Murdo. The Ballantyne family took on the tenancy of Clynelish in 1982 with Jason taking over the majority of the day-to-day management of the business in 2012. They also contract farm 48 hectare nearby and rent a further 50 hectares of rough grazing.  

The family has focused considerable attention on improvements to the grass and soil of the farm during the past three decades and have seen some good results. However, Jason Ballantyne, who admits to being a little “grass obsessed”, feels there is still scope to improve grass utilisation and increase overall outputs.

The family runs 900 breeding ewes, of which about half are Lairg type Cheviots and the other half Lleyn cross. The ewes all lamb outdoors at the end of April over 3 weeks, which has been the policy for about 7yrs with the tight lambing suiting their system. 

Replacements are home bred with about half the Cheviots staying pure and the other half now going to the Aberfield. All cross ewes go to Meatlinc and New Zealand Suffolk rams. The family’s store lambs are generally sold through Dingwall Mart or off farm privately with a small number of prime lambs going to Elgin (Mey Selections).

The Ballantynes also have 80 suckler cows which are a mostly a mixture of Simmental cross native cows which are all outwintered. They calve outside in May and June to continental bulls and the calves are weaned in mid-November. Calves are housed inside over the winter months on a diet of silage and grainbeet. These are sold as stores in Thainstone mart at 10 months. 

The farm produces all its own hay and silage and all stock are nearly completely forage fed.  The Ballantynes are keen to find ways to supplement their winter keep and grew 12 hectares of brassicas for the sheep and cattle this year. Straw for bedding and feeding is bought-in, along with some draff from the neighbouring Clynelish Distillery which is mixed with beetpulp and pitted.

As well as being the new monitor farm for Sutherland, Clynelish is also an SRUC climate change focus farm. As part of this project, the business has been trying to find practical ways to improve efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint.

Vic and Jason are excited about being involved in the new monitor farm programme and are looking forward to seeing how their farm, and other farms in Sutherland and the far North, will benefit from the initiative.

“It’s going to be great to have specialists coming to the area and sharing their knowledge and expertise on how to step up efficiency with us and other local farmers,” said Vic Ballantyne.

Jason Ballantyne added: “I think it is really important to us as farmers to challenge ourselves and look at our businesses and the way we do things. Hopefully by doing this, we can go on to make improvements and improve our bottom line.

“I’m particularly looking forward to collecting more data on our farm so that we can make more informed choices about which direction to take the farm in in the future,”, said Mr Ballantyne.

The new three-year monitor farm programme is being run jointly by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. It is establishing a group of farms to serve as monitor farms to help improve the profitability, productivity and sustainability of producers through practical demonstrations, the sharing of best practice and the discussion of up-to-date issues.

Planning has begun for the first meeting at the new Sutherland Monitor Farm, which will be held in the new year. Those interested in being involved in the project, they should contact Cat MacGregor, one of the project facilitators, SAC Consulting Thurso on 01847 892602, or email FBSThurso@sac.co.uk

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