FARMER James Fairlie has sought to mitigate the risk and uncertainty afflicting farming incomes by adding a renewables venture to the mix on his family's Angus farm.

James, who runs Kirkton of Monikie Farm along with his father, Iain, believes rewarding times are ahead thanks to their investment in an anaerobic digestion plant to complement the existing farm business.

“After taking over the management role of the farm business from my father a few years ago, I was keen to look at alternative business ventures which would generate a healthier and more predictable cashflow," explained James. "With the constant volatilities of crop prices and the uncertainty over future subsidies, our income was becoming severely affected and difficult to budget.”

The AD plant runs at a constant temperature of 41 degrees, which induces an anaerobic state that James compares to a ‘large cow’s stomach’, releasing high energy gases, in turn fuelling a turbine which generates 500kW of electricity that James then sells to the national grid.

As a byproduct of the gas release process, the AD plant produces safe and environmentally friendly digestate which can be used as fertiliser on the farm.

The Fairlie's project was steered with help from EQ Chartered Accountants, where agri-finance specialist Mark Smeaton has assisted many farming businesses with new ventures, including land acquisitions and renewable projects, as well as the reorganisation of existing bank debt. In just two years, Mr Smeaton has succeeded in arranging finance deals worth around £140million for his agricultural clients.

James commented: “My family’s relationship with EQ dates back over 30 years. Their knowledge of agriculture, and the many challenges it brings, is second-to-none. Mark is also from a local farming family and has good knowledge of the practical challenges that I face day-to-day.

"EQ understand how a farm operates and speak the same language. My daily schedule is so hectic – I need to deal with people who know my business and the timeframes we operate in. Put simply, life would be much harder if I didn’t have EQ on board.”

Researching the idea, Mark helped James go over the projections, calculate the potential income and explore how to use that income to invest back into the farm.

James added: “Mark felt like a safety net, providing the reassurance that what we were investing in would work. He then pulled together all of the necessary projections to show the bank that this was a viable investment.”

Looking to the future, James added: “The farm is now a different animal – I delegate more and I’m less hands on. Yes, it’s been a steep learning curve but it’s been so reassuring having EQ behind me throughout, and with me on the journey ahead.”

Mr Smeaton commented: “Having worked in the agricultural finance sector for most of my working life, I benefit from a strong network of contacts, both agricultural and financial, and can help clients identify the best options, supporting them with their long-term business objectives.”