By a correspondent

It’s clear that Aberdeenshire farmer Peter Chapman wasn’t expecting to be named the first AgriScot 'Arable Farmer of the Year'.

Anyone who saw him at the awards – which was sponsored by Soil Essentials – couldn’t have doubted the amazement written on his face. However, when we sit down to talk about it a couple of weeks later it becomes apparent that his surprise wasn’t wholly down natural modesty.

“I was absolutely shocked,” he admitted with a laugh, “I was completely sure someone else had won. Andrew Moir, the chair of AgriScot, asked me to help make sure one of the other finalists attended the announcement so, of course, I thought he had won!”

However, there are many people in the arable sector who won’t be surprised that this third generation farmer gained the much deserved plaudits.

Peter’s family started farming in Aberdeenshire in 1946 and they certainly weren’t looking for an easy life. “You only have to hear the name of the farm – Redbog – to know the kind of conditions we are dealing with,” he said. “But apart from the weather, what’s not to like about farming? A great outdoor lifestyle, varied days, cutting edge tech and being your own boss.”

Peter has been running the farm in partnership with his wife, Grace, since last year and prior to that they were running the business with his parents. However, despite his dad (Conservative MSP Peter Chapman) only recently retiring, he gave him significant responsibility for the business early on.

“I was made a full partner when I graduated from university,” Peter explained. “I knew I needed more responsibility to make a difference and stay on farm and dad has always been great, he let me learn from my mistakes and never chastised me … much.”

While Peter snr may have taken a backseat, it’s certainly no one man show at Redbog, as Grace plays an absolutely vital role as equal partner. “Grace does all of the accounting, looks after the invoicing and OFGEM side to do with our wind turbines. She also works a lot of the cattle side, as well as taken charge of the grain drying. I really could not do it without her.”

The couple have three children – Trudy, Louise and Katie – who all help out on the farm. Peter isn’t yet sure who will follow their footsteps and manage the farm, but is adamant it will stay in the family.

Having previously included dairy, pigs and broilers, the farm is now largely focused on arable, growing spring and winter barley, winter oilseed rape and winter wheat on a strict rotation. They also have a closed herd of approximately 70 suckler cows, the progeny of which they finish on farm.

The cattle enterprise supports Peter’s efforts to increase the organic matter in his soils. “Every arable field gets mucked every year,” he pointed out. “We also buy in about 3000 tonnes of compost annually. It supplies the bulk of our P and K – I’ve not had to buy in bagged P and K for about a decade.”

In 2007, the family decided to take advantage of the possibilities that renewable energy offered in terms of diversification and invested in two 800 kW wind turbines. They added two more four years ago.

“It’s the best business decision we ever made. All of the power generated goes to the grid and now we have that income stream it takes the pressure off when it comes to other enterprises. I’m a great believer in spreading the risk,” added Peter.

Not that he is the type to become complacent. He has been benchmarking since taking on the role of chair of the Aberdeenshire Monitor Farm which ran from 2014-2016 and has continued to do so as part of the local Arable Business Group, which is facilitated by AHDB.

It’s a subject he is passionate about. “I think benchmarking is vital. Until you see your figures in black and white and compare them with your neighbours and peers, you really have no idea where you are falling down.

“I was a big enthusiast about Cropbench and I have now started with Farmbench which is also great. It’s letting me look at my cattle enterprise for the first time and sometimes it’s not easy reading!”

When the subject of Brexit is mentioned, he is even more sombre: “People just don’t seem to realise what is coming and few farmers seem to be doing much to prepare. I know we don’t actually know what Brexit will involve, but surely we should all still be aiming to be as efficient as possible no matter what the future holds?”

Pessimism doesn’t seem to come naturally to Peter: “There will no doubt be opportunities, as well as challenges, after we leave the EU, but we’ll be looking to take advantage of them when they arrive.” Coming from the 'Arable Farmer of the Year', how can anyone disagree?


South Redbog, Strichen, Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire

Farm type: Mixed

Farm size: 420 ha total – 345 ha arable plus rotational and rough grazing.

Cattle breed: Aberdeen-Angus bulls onto Continental and Aberdeen-Angus cross cows

Crop varieties grown: Spring barley for feed (Planet and Propino); winter barley (Sunningdale and Cassia); winter wheat (Zulu and Motown) and oilseed rape (Alizze and Aquila).