This year has brought digital media technology to the top of the agenda during lockdown, and Scotland’s close-knit network of agritourism farmers have reached out to thousands of families stuck at home by bringing a live daily virtual tour into their living rooms via the Go Rural Facebook page.

Initially started by a few farming friends on a mission to cheer people up, providing two weeks of virtual lambing from 14 different lambing sheds. ‘Lambathon’ had become such a hit with audiences that ‘Welcome to my farm’ followed.

This saw 77 farmers, that were normally busy welcoming tourists and visitors, attracting 10,000 families to watch live and generating a reach of almost 2.5m on Facebook. That boils down to 750,503 minutes of videos of Scottish farm life being watched to date, with many people watching the videos on ‘catch-up’ in the evenings.

Many watching were from outside Scotland, with a strong demand for an insight into Scottish rural life from people in the rest of the UK as well as viewers from the USA, Canada and Europe.

The results of engagement showed:

Post reach of live tours – 1,222,806

Post engagement – 197,980

Caroline Millar, with the support of Visit Scotland, helped to set up the daily tours. She commented: “All types of farming enterprises have been showcased from dairy farms in Dumfries and Galloway to hill sheep farms in Argyll, strawberries and soft fruit in Aberdeenshire to crofts in Shetland.

“As well as providing an insight to farming life to those watching, the agritourism entrepreneurs have been able to take people for a tour of their on-farm accommodation, farm cafes and shops, wedding venues and event spaces, with even a speed boat tour of Loch Lomond being featured.

“The hope in streaming the tourism and leisure experiences available, is that this will stimulate interest and demand to visit a Scottish farm post lockdown for a day out or holiday, generating considerable benefit for the rural economy,” added Caroline.

The ‘Go Rural’ logo is given to only ‘real working farms’ to encourage the public to experience proper farming life where food is produced.

A survey of those who have been watching the tours showed that learning more about Scottish food was one of the main reasons they enjoyed watching the live tours. With a growing trend during Covid lockdown of the public buying direct from farmers and more and more agritourism businesses offering food experiences to guests, this was a great vindication of the rural tourist industry reach.

The strong interest in food has also led to the next phase of the live tours, ‘Come to lunch on my farm,’ with local cooks and chefs now being invited on to farms for a live farm tour and a cookery demonstration using farm produce.

Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of Visit Scotland, commented on Go Rural’s success: “It’s a sector that has gone from strength to strength over the last few years and one which will continue to grow. Visitor trends and insights show us that people are favouring a rural setting, so these businesses are certainly well placed to capitalise on this and I’m sure will give guests a very warm Scottish welcome.”

Vicki Miller, also from Visit Scotland, added: “Despite it being the most devastating four months, this project has been the standout initiative needed in the economy and very forward looking. It has put Scotland on the map and shown the diversification to the countryside as well as the food chain. It is an exciting journey to look forward to.”

Coming out of lockdown brings fresh challenges and the team behind Go Rural is expecting a drop in audience hits, so are considering reducing the number of virtual tours and encouraging people to begin physical visits of the actual farms again.

None of the farmers taking part had ever conducted a live tour on Facebook before, with all having to learn how to juggle using the technology with the adrenalin rush of broadcasting live to the world. Almost all have gone on to conduct live tours on their own social media channels, with an increased confidence in speaking live to potential customers.

The Scottish Farmer:

BILL AND Helen Smith of Byres Farm

Commenting on their experience was Helen and Bill Smith, Byres Farm, Morayshire: “It was a different experience to us and it was terrifying when the ‘4G’ drops and you have no alternative! However, it has all been a learning curve for us and it has already seen a real increase on our hits,” said Helen. “It has been amazing to showcase the world of farming across a global market as well as to our local customers.”

Bill added: “We will be launching our latest ‘Come and lunch with me’ as an aspect of ‘farm to fork’ to encourage more people to understand where their food is coming from. People are interested in what we are doing and it is important we show them properly.

The Scottish Farmer:

CAROLE SHORT getting her self-catering holiday home ready for a busy post-Covid season

It has been a different, but rewarding experience for Carole Short, Down on the Farm, Aberdeenshire: “I never really slept the week before my first live broadcast. We rehearsed and rehearsed and I was still just as worried as it was something I had never done before. You fear that you aren’t good enough and don’t have anything interesting to say,” said Carole.

“That’s especially when we are in a very isolated job and spend a lot of time on our own, but it turned out to be very much a confidence booster! Overall, it has been a great initiative, and encouraging that we have been able to share our experiences along the way with everyone else involved,” she added.

The Scottish Farmer:

LOUISE NICOL of Newton Farm Holidays

Another to praise the project’s success was Louise Nicol, Newton Farm Holidays, Angus, who explained it was a no brainer getting involved. “Prior to this project I was posting the odd photos and videos for everyone to see during lockdown, but this was the next big step for me,” she said.

“I was conscious to begin with that the virtual tours wouldn’t make any money and if people would return to the live tours. However, it has worked wonders I have never seen so many hits on my page and I am busier than ever now that lockdown is easing. People were setting their clocks to watch the live sessions as they had become so engaged – it really has been amazing!” added Louise.

The Scottish Farmer:

MURRAY AND Amy McConchie of Mossyard Farm learnt a lot from virtual farm visits

The process has further bonded the Go Rural team across the board. From Dumfries and Galloway, Murray and Amy McConchie, Mossyard, shared their thoughts: “The camaraderie between everyone involved has been overwhelming and so supportive. It was great that everyone was there for each other to give advice and see what worked well for others,” said Amy.

Murray added: “It has been an incredible experience and we are so thankful we went for it. It has drawn attention to our self-catering accommodation – it is more popular than ever. We’ve also found that people are interested in what we do and want to learn about the farming community.”