FARMERS' enthusiasm for the new North Ayrshire Monitor Farm shone through at this week’s first meeting, where a great turnout of around 80 people were welcomed to Girtridge Farm, near Dundonald in Ayrshire, to hear host farmer John Howie lay out his hopes and aspirations for the project.
During the farm visit suggestions, questions and ideas flowed freely from the farmers who attended, setting very strong foundations for the project to deliver benefits for both the host family and the other farmers involved in the three years ahead.
Girtridge is one of nine new monitor farms being established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland and AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government.
The 140-hectare farm is run as a partnership involving 27-year-old John, his mother Margaret and his sister Mary. The farm sits in an elevated position just outside Dundonald, and the family also own a further 35 hectares of grazing land nearby.
The main farm enterprise is buying in around 200 store cattle each year and finishing them for sale direct to local abattoirs but the family also have a herd of 10 suckler cows. The potential to expand this small breeding herd (currently not giving the resident Limousin bull much work!) was one area which generated early discussion at the meeting.
The farm also runs 140 cross ewes producing Suffolk and Texel prime lambs that are mainly sold through nearby Ayr market. The opportunity to improve grassland management and increase ewe numbers and productivity was also contemplated. This year the ewes have scanned at 196%, with five empty.
Another key area which generated much interest was the layout of the steading which houses the cattle for finishing and the potential for much better handling facilities and a weigh crate. The ventilation in one of the two main cattle sheds also came under scrutiny, with some suggestions of potential improvements from farmers attending.
Everything grown on the unit is used on-farm, including 56 hectares of silage and hay and 28 hectares of spring barley. Facilitator Carol-Anne Warnock, of SAC Consulting, talked through the results of a whole farm soil analysis and base fertility review which proved very revealing and highlighted a number of areas for improvement, including the need for lime application to many fields.
Mr Howie said he was really looking forward to seeing his business improve its efficiency during the three year monitor farm project and to sharing what he learns along the way with other farmers and bench-marking his farm with others to identify areas for improvement.
“I’m not in favour of the ‘aye done’ approach – I like to be open to new ideas and I’m looking forward to hearing the thoughts of others about what we might look at doing differently,” he said.
Former Clyde monitor farmer Andrew Baillie gave an inspirational talk highlighting the many benefits his farm business had experienced following the changes made during his term as a monitor farmer.
Among his top tips for being an effective monitor farmer were the need to be open-minded and open to suggestions and a willingness to carry out trials. He added that it was important not to take criticism to heart and to ignore the “tyre-kickers.”
Facilitator Raymond Crerar said he was delighted with the level of support for the first meeting and how interactive the meeting had been – with plenty ideas and enthusiasm from the farmers attending.
QMS head of industry development, Doug Bell, added: “This is a really exciting time for the industry with, including the North East pig monitor Farm, ten new monitor farms set up in Scotland. This is very much a farmer-led initiative which will create a very powerful network of farmers sharing information. It is a fantastic opportunity and I would urge as many farmers as possible to get involved.”