Livestock farmers based in Orkney and the surrounding areas who are keen to grow and use more grass in a financially positive way, are benefitting from a new Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) initiative.

Facilitated by pasture expert Michael Blanche, Orkney Managed Grazing aims to increase the profitability of red meat production in Orkney by developing a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange network.

Members of a core group of six pioneering farmers based on Orkney and Shetland are working with leading livestock industry experts to develop and implement a managed grazing system that is suited to the local grass growing conditions.

The core group meet four times a year, visiting group members farms to assess challenges and opportunities in implementing a managed grazing strategy.

Using shared benchmarked data, the group members will be able to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of their own grazing management systems and compare them with other group members. The group are aided by specialists, including world-leading livestock adviser Trevor Cook, who met with the group in early June.

Key lessons learned by the core group members will then be cascaded to the wider agricultural community through open events, the first of which is to take place on July 30. At this meeting, farmers Robert Fleming and Jim Logan will share their journey on how they implemented a new grazing strategy that transformed their livestock businesses.

“I’m really excited about the project and the group.” Michael Blanche explained. “Agriculture is facing a lot of challenges and a major one is profitability. The core group members want to address that challenge directly by really concentrating on better use of the cheapest feed available – pasture. Extending the grazing season and cheapening the winter in particular could have a huge impact on profit on Orkney.

“Farmers hear a lot about the benefits of rotational grazing but less on how to do it. In two meetings so far, I feel the group have grasped the concepts and practicalities of how to do it, quicker than any group I’ve been involved in. Being a good grazier is as much a skill as being a good stockman and I want this group to become expert graziers,” added Mr Blanche.

The open meeting on July 30 will be partly held on Willie Harcus’ farm at Quanterness to have a close look at what Willie has implemented. The group will hear from two farmers who have been at the forefront of developing pasture-based red meat production systems – Robert Fleming who farms at Castle Sinniness near Glenluce who is really pushing the boundaries in terms of beef production per hectare, and Borders farmer Jim Logan has cut costs dramatically as well as increased production in a challenging environment.

“Feedback from farmers who attended an initial QMS Grazing meeting last October indicated many were interested in looking at grazing management in more detail,” said Sarah Millar, head of industry development at QMS.

“They were also keen to analyse the financial impact of the changes they had made to their own grazing strategies.

“I am delighted that Michael Blanche, who was instrumental in developing the original QMS Grazing Groups in Scotland, is leading this work and has already seen marked progress with the core group.”

The meeting on July 30 starts at 10.30 and finishes at 15.00 and will take place at the Albert Hotel, Kirkwall, moving on to Quanterness Farm after lunch. To book your place please contact Laura Strang on 07876797018 or email