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Shetland’s New Monitor Farm Gears Up for First Meeting

The hosts of Shetland’s new monitor farm, Aimee and Kirsty Budge of Bigton Farm, are looking forward to welcoming farmers and crofters to their first meeting next month.

The pair are rising to the challenge of being part of the three-year monitor farm programme and keen to hear the ideas of others and share the benefits of the changes they introduce.

They are currently preparing for their first open meeting, which is being held on Saturday 4th February. The meeting will start at Bigton Hall at 11am and after lunch, the group will move to the farm for a tour, with the event finishing by 3pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

Bigton farm is one of nine new monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds. The aim of the programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses through practical demonstrations, the sharing of best practice and the discussion of up-to-date issues.

Farmers and crofters who attend the meetings at Bigton will be able to suggest changes that the farm can make to improve its efficiency and then monitor the results on the farm over the three-year period of the programme.  The community group can also choose topics and speakers for future meetings and discuss issues that are local to Shetland. 

Kirsty Budge is keen to start making improvements to Bigton, and there will be an opportunity to tour the farm at the first meeting.

“One of the issues we have is that although our scanning numbers are high, the number of actual lambs on the ground could be higher. This is just one of the areas we want to get help with early on,” she said.

“At the first meeting, we will go over our scanning and lambing figures, and it will be great to have the experience of Shetland farmers and crofters, our local vet and other industry experts to suggest changes to our management. The results will then be monitored over the three-year programme.”

Aimee Budge is also looking forward to the first meeting. She commented: “We are delighted that Duncan McEwen from Arnprior in Stirlingshire is coming up to talk about what happened during his time as the Forth Monitor Farmer, and the improvements he saw on his farm as a result.”

As well as Duncan McEwen, a representative from QMS and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds will give an overview of the new monitor farm programme and how local farmers can get involved. Derek Hanton from SAC Consulting in Inverness, who has facilitated previous monitor farms, will also highlight how local farmers and crofters can also benefit from the project. 

For future Bigton meetings, there is plenty to consider. The farm covers 300 hectares, most which is permanent pasture and intensive grassland. It carries 240 ewes and 70 suckler cows, plus some barley is grown.  The ewes are Shetland cross Cheviot, put to a Suffolk tup and lambs are either finished or sold as stores at Thainstone in December.

The spring calving sucklers are Salers cross Shorthorn, and are either put to a Charolais or Shorthorn bull, with the heifers being put to a Salers. Most of the store calves are sold at local markets at 12 months old with some finished to supply local butchers on the island.

The benefits for the monitor farm programme have been highlighted by lots of previous monitor farmers. The Budge sisters are confident that Bigton being the Shetland Monitor Farm will not only help them develop their business and learn more about how they can make it more profitable, but that other farmers and crofters on Shetland will benefit from the programme too.

For catering purposes, those interested in coming along to the launch should contact the project facilitator, Graham Fraser, SAC Consulting Lerwick on 01595 693520, or email frbslerwick@sac.co.uk  by Wednesday 1 February.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.qmscotland.co.uk or cereals.ahdb.org.uk.