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A double first in the history of Scotland’s monitor farm programme takes place this week with the appointment of a monitor farm for the Caithness and Sutherland area.

The Caithness and Sutherland monitor farm is the first for the area and also the first in Scotland to be backed by sponsorship from local businesses, in addition to funding from Quality Meat Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Three farm businesses were short-listed to be the first monitor farm for the area with Westfield Farm, Thurso run by John MacKenzie and step-son, Gary Elder, chosen to be the host farm for the next three years.

Westfield extends to 223ha comprising 23ha cereals, 109ha temporary grass, 60ha permanent grass and 31 ha of rough grazing. A further 410ha is rented on a seasonal basis.

The unit currently runs 280 suckler cows with a further 40 in-calf heifers. The progeny are sold as stores from 300 – 450kg and the farm retains its own replacements.

The farm, which has been in the MacKenzie family for more than 70 years, also has a flock of 460 North Country Cheviot hill ewes with the lambs sold both store and finished. Spring barley is grown for use as on-farm feed.

Westfield, which extends to 100m above sea level and has an average annual rainfall of 885mm, was awarded a Rural Development Contract last year for an environmental scheme covering the majority of the unit and the farm has two Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

The farm also successfully applied for funding under the Rural Development Contract for an innovative slurry system, comprising of an underground network of pipes delivering the slurry directly to the fields required. A new slatted system and above ground slurry storage facility will also be constructed this summer.

QMS has appointed Derek Hanton and Iona Cameron, of SAC, as facilitators to oversee the Caithness and Sutherland monitor farm and, following the completion of the whole farm review and benchmarking process, they hope to start meetings on the farm in early spring.

Peter Beattie, QMS Technical Projects Manager, said he was pleased with the calibre of the applicants attracted and all three farms had been strong contenders.

“Westfield will provide an excellent opportunity for farmers, both locally and further afield, to consider options to improve their businesses and step up production efficiency and profits from their livestock enterprises. We look forward to working with John and Gary over the next three years,” said Mr Beattie.

Mr Beattie also thanked the local businesses for their support. “The sponsorship offered for the project by local businesses is extremely valuable and takes the monitor farm programme to a new level by demonstrating local commitment to the project and backing from a wider cross-section of the agricultural community,” he added.

The local businesses and QMS are contributing almost £24,000 over the three years of the fonitor farm project with a further £60,000 funding coming from the Scottish Government.