The aim of the new programme, run jointly by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, is 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.
Monitor farms, typical of their areas, will be established in: Nithsdale; Scottish Borders; North Ayrshire; Lothians; Mearns and Angus; Lochaber; Morayshire; Sutherland; and Shetland.
The new programme will adopt a whole farm approach and it is hoped that they will help build resilient businesses, introduce innovative ideas and highlight the importance of collaboration.
Previous monitor farmers have been encouraging farmers to come forward and find out more about the new programme, funded by £1.25 million secured from the Scottish Government and European Union’s Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund.
Among these is Steven Sandison, previously the Orkney monitor farmer, who was one of the speakers at an open meeting on the project in Shetland.
The establishment of a monitor farm will be a first for Shetland, and Mr Sandison said he had found the experience very worthwhile and of great value to his business, as well as opening his eyes to a range of opportunities.
He highlighted several of the changes which were successfully introduced to his sucker beef operation at Millburn Farm, during his three years as Orkney monitor farmer.
“The importance of bench-making the performance of my cattle was a key learn from the monitor farm experience,” said Mr Sandison.
Among the areas of greatest interest were looking at expressing the farm’s costs as £/kg of red meat sold. Mr Sandison felt this had a place to allow different types of farm businesses to be benchmarked.
However, as time went on the most valuable aspect of benchmarking was, he said, to be able to compare his latest results with the previous year’s figures.
He also outlined how he had managed to pin down the source of a problem he had been experiencing with his heifers not being in as good condition as he wanted when approaching calving.
“When we investigated the cause, we found it to be the result of a cobalt deficiency and a change to the way I supplement my heifers with trace elements and cobalt in particular resulted in a considerable improvement,” said Mr Sandison.
A further change was to reduce the cow numbers at Millburn slightly which resulted in a general improvement in performance and an increase in the weight of each weaned calf sold.
One of the Shetland monitor farm project facilitators, Graham Fraser of SAC Consulting, explained the different ways farmers could get involved.
“On top of the opportunity to be the host monitor farmer, there are lots of ways that farmers can be part of the project,” said Mr Fraser.
“For example, they can become members of the community group linked to each farm and there will also be an opportunity to be a member of the business group associated with the farm.
“This really is a fantastic opportunity and we’re looking forward to taking the project forward in the coming months.”
Further details and information on how to apply can be found here.