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Cab Sec visit Lothians monitor farm

Increased profitability and reduced reliance on direct support payments, alongside increasing environmental sustainability are just a few of the key messages that are being highlighted in a new video as part of the Monitor Farm Scotland Programme.

The video, focusing on Saughland Farm, Pathhead, highlights the journey the farm’s management team, led by owner Richard Callander and farm manager Peter Eccles, have been on over the last three years as part of the programme.

Integrated Land Management Plans (ILMP), undertaken by Lothians Monitor Farm facilitator Colin MacPhail at Saughland and with joint Monitor Farm host Bill Gray at Prestonhall, have been integral to the success of the project.

The ILMPs allowed Saughland and Prestonhall Farms to set out their visions for the future and identify the strengths and weaknesses of the current farming enterprises. This helped the management team develop collaborative solutions and trial new ideas about how the businesses could become more sustainable and profitable. Environmental audits, carbon audits and specialist advice plans have also provided constructive reports to support decision making.

Saughland and Prestonhall farms make up 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 through the Scottish Rural Development Programme. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

Following the ILMP process, and the trial of new ways of working, supported by the Monitor Farm community group, the farm business at Saughland has seen huge benefits over the course of the three-year project. These benefits include increasing cattle and sheep numbers, whilst at the same time increasing new areas of habitat for biodiversity, including 4,000 metres of hedgerows - all contributing to making the farm more sustainable and efficient.

The video is one of a series that are available showcasing the improvements seen on the nine monitor farms since the start of the project.

The Monitor Farm project worked to help the farms be less reliant on farm subsidies and more self-sufficient, something Saughland Farm is nearing ever closer to thanks to its work through the project.

Today, Wednesday 11 September, the video was launched at Prestonhall Farm, when Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing MSP announced £1,000 funding for specialist support and advice on farm resilience planning through the Farm Advisory Service, delivered as part of the ILMP process.

Saughland Farm is a total of 320 hectares, 70 hectares of which is arable. Peter Eccles joined Saughland Farm as farm manager four years ago and since then has more than doubled the sheep numbers and has moved the flock from inside to outside lambing. The farm has suckler cows, mainly Angus, Hereford, and Limousin crosses, which complement the sheep enterprise and are integral to the grazing system.

The farm works closely with neighbouring arable farm Prestonhalls, run by Bill Gray. They have been working together to improve collaboration, sharing and land and resources to improve both the arable and livestock enterprises.

Commenting on the Monitor Farm project and the benefits the farm has reaped from being part of it, Peter said: “The project has not only allowed us to try new things, it has also allowed us to experiment with the livestock enterprises and collaborate further with Bill at Prestonhall.

“Our biggest challenge as part of the project was to move away from reliance of farm subsidies in order to support the farm financially. We have managed to increase our ewe numbers from 950 breeding ewes to 2,000 breeding ewes, and doubled our cow numbers from 40 to 80, with a vision to increase this further in the future.

“This has been done by reducing our arable acreage and through our use of paddock grazing, which we have developed over the last few years. We have created three to four hectare blocks that we can subdivide with temporary fencing down to two hectare blocks.

“This allows us to run groups of 300 ewes with twin lambs in these blocks for two days and then follow them with maybe 40 cows with calves for a couple of days.

“Over the last three years we’ve been able to increase our output from a little under 400 kilograms per hectare to over 700 kilograms of sales per hectare.

“Working with the management group and the facilitators as part of a monitor farm programme has been hugely enjoyable and beneficial. I think the people have made it. It’s been great fun having the confidence to try some new techniques.”

Sarah Millar, QMS Head of Industry Development commented: “As we near the end of the current Monitor Farm Scotland programme we are starting to see the impacts that small changes to farming systems can make to farm profitability.”

“The teams at Saughland and Prestonhall,  supported by a fantastic facilitator in Colin MacPhail and by the wider community group, have relished in the challenge that was set to them at the start and have achieved increased business output aswell as increasing environmental sustainability- win wins that focus on business practice that is good for nature as well as bank balances.”

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing MSP, said: “As we look to tackle the global climate emergency, the need to balance environmental sustainability with being a sustainable and profitable business has never been greater.  That is why, we continue to support the key role of our Monitor Farm Programme in supporting innovation, collaboration and sharing best practice to enhance the viability and efficiency of Scottish agriculture.”

The full video can be viewed below: