Benchmarking through an AHBD group has enabled young farmer, Craig Peddie, at Cornceres, Anstruther, to make some key decisions that have impacted positively on the family business.

The 196 ha Fife farm was one of three finalists for the Scottish Arable Farm of the Year, organised by AHDB, sponsored by Soil Essentials and presented at AgriScot, recently.

Craig (30) returned home in 2012 after completing a Masters in Agricultural Engineering at Harper Adams and almost straight away found himself running the farming side of the business, when a diversification project to create a caravan site on the coast took up most of dad, Andrew and mum, Gwen’s time as well as that of his sister, Kirsty.

The farm is split by the A917, which runs along the east coast of Fife and fields on the top side of the road are heavier clay, while those running down to the sea can be very light and sandy, so Craig has developed two rotations to suit the different soils.

Potatoes are only grown on the lighter land, between first wheats, oats and beans while wheat, oats, barley, OSR and beans make up the rotation on the heavier soils.

A member of Scottish Agronomy, Craig finds their advice useful and has become a fan of minimal cultivations. He is now using strip tillage for 60% of the sowing, which he said saved time, fuel, wearing metal and has, so far, not negatively impacted yields. It also allowed him to reduce chemical inputs.

Craig designed and built his strip till drill entirely on his own in the farm workshop, drawing on his engineering experience and it has been a great success.

He said: “Adapting machines is my hobby. I started by converting an old subsoiler into a machine to sow oilseed rape with one pass into stubble. From that, I designed and manufactured my own 3m drill from scratch and went on to build a 5m light cultivator.

“I wanted something better than a stubble rake, but not as heavy as the traditional cultivators on the market. This machine is perfect for the soils round here and has led to contracting opportunities locally.”

There is only one man employed on the farm and he ‘goes to the potatoes’ on Craig’s uncle’s farm after harvest, so Craig invented his own method of one pass sowing which he can do himself. The bonus is improved soil health and reduced fertiliser and chemical applications.

As part of the benchmarking group which sprang up from a previous AHDB Fife Monitor Farm, Craig finds he really enjoyed comparing data and discussing technology and techniques with other farmers in the group. Two of which were also finalists in the Scottish Arable Farm of the Year (see pages 17 and 19).

Traditionally, the farm had a pig unit, which had outdoor breeding sows on the light land next to the shore, where the caravan park has now been developed. Around 100 pigs were finished each week, but the volatility of the pig meat market was hard to bear.

Craig said: “The main business at that time was pigs and all the grain grown on the farm was fed to the pigs, and pork was our only product, so we were at the mercy of the marketplace.”

The pigs went shortly after Craig arrived home and the farm was without them for 18 months, but he grasped an opportunity to do bed and breakfast pigs in the existing sheds and now finishes 2400 pigs a year. He said: “The dung is spread on the land, which is key in keeping our soils healthy and means we rarely have to spread P, K or lime.”

The other livestock enterprise, however, has gone forever. As a direct result of benchmarking, Craig made the decision to get rid of the 35 suckler cows on the farm earlier this year.

He reckoned the cattle enterprise was too small and margins too tight and said: “This is the first time in the farm’s history there have been no cattle here, but it is hard to argue with a well benchmarked business decision!”

Along with other farmers in the area, the Peddies have been working closely with the RSPB to increase the population of corn buntings by sowing a wild bird mixture on specific sites on the farm. This has been an unqualified success, increasing the population of this coastal bird by 300%, as well as benefitting other species such as yellowhammer and lapwing.

Enthusiastic about making the most from the farm, this year Craig entered a crop of wheat into the YEN (Yield Enhancement Network) and was pleased to come 48th out of 298 entries. He said he learnt a lot from this process and hoped to do better next year.

Being part of Scottish Agronomy is an important factor: “The group format has been good for bouncing off ideas and learning from others’ similar experiences and particularly for giving me confidence to try new things.”

“This year we trialled three different establishment methods for oats to see the impact on yield, as well as different rates of foliar nitrogen on wheat. It was really interesting to see how one element changes the physiology so dramatically and how it can impact different growth stages.”

The SA trials have been a good local barometer, he added. “You can take the data that you need from these and it allows you to keep on top of the game. Also, if a top variety hasn’t worked in the trials one season, you know it’s not just you!”

Looking forward, Craig, who gets married to fiancé, Sarah, next year, said: “I am confident the business will handle whatever the future throws at us. We have got rid of the volatility in breeding pigs and cattle, and we are still diverse enough to survive.”

This progressive approach won him a place as a finalist in the 2019 AgriScot Farm of the Year Awards.