"As an industry we are becoming too far removed from our end customers and I'm hoping to do something about that," said industry veteran campaigner and lobbyist, John Cameron.

Mr Cameron, who farms with his wife, Margaret, at Balbuthie, in the East Neuk of Fife, last weekend used the platform of a visit by fellow Hereford breeders from the Scottish Hereford Breeders Club, to launch a £1m project which aims to change all that.

He told visitors that it had troubled him ever since leaving office as NFU Scotland president almost 50 years ago that the industry was seen just as that – an industry – and had lost sight of maintaining that special connection with the people that it fed.

As usual, his solution was pragmatic. So, after a few years in the planning, his 'Open Farm' project is ready to go with a purpose-built reception building, with meeting rooms and catering facilities that will be used to build that 'better understanding' between producers and their end customers.

The plan is to host two farm tours each day once suitable staffing levels have been achieved, with the family's Cameron Trust funding the project to the extent that it will be offered for use to young farmers clubs, tourists, SRUC classes, school children and other rurally-related organisation free of charge. He made special mention, too, that RHET activities would also have priority given the work it does in educating school children on rural matters.

Out on tour - one three trailer loads of visitors

Out on tour - one three trailer loads of visitors

“Ever since my NFU Scotland days, I’ve felt guilty that I didn’t do enough then or since to try to foster a relationship between producers and consumers. As an industry we’re very bad at that,” he said.

“We’ve got biodiversity and climate change challenges, but to me building a better relationship is just as important, and if we can achieve that it will stand us in good stead to help us meet the many challenges the industry faces.”

He added: "This project is all about 'knowledge transfer', so that when visitors leave here, they leave with a better understanding about farming and how it works. We'll major on livestock welfare, do farm tours and then end with a discussion." Lecturers and guides 'with a deep understanding of the industry' will be employed to be key member of the delivery team.

As one of the first farmers to embrace a holistic approach to animal health and welfare – quite a feat given that he was once dubbed Europe's biggest sheep farmer, with 20,000 ewes – Mr Cameron said that 'every livestock farmer should have a mandatory requirement to have a health plan for all of their stock.'

Some impressive heifers forward for the stock judging

Some impressive heifers forward for the stock judging

His home, Balbuthie, remains a green oasis amongst many acres of arable crops in that fertile part of Scotland and is home to a stock of 150 SimLuing cows, plus his wife, Margaret's Baldinnie herd of pedigree Herefords. But soon, Mr Cameron hopes to add a breeding flock of sheep to the inventory.

The Open Farm project has been greeted enthusiastically by the East Fife Tourist Association who have also endorsed Mr Cameron's plans to make Balbuthie another great tourist destination by playing host to his two famous locomotives – The Union of South Africa and The Great Marquis.

He's a passionate railway enthusiast – being a former board member of Scotrail – and has owned these engines since the 1960s

John Cameron’s first love may be farming, but he is also a passionate railway enthusiast who owns his own steam locomotives, the Great Marquess and the Union of South Africa. These giants of a bygone age were supposed to be housed at Balbuthie until the local planning authority put paid to his plans.

Never one to back off from a scrap, Mr Cameron had built a second shed with underfloor heating which, he hoped could one day house those special engines and be an added attraction to the Open farm concept. At the moment, that huge shed is home to straw bales for the livestock on the farm, but could be easily converted into a permanent home for the trains and their tenders.

Winning herd goes on show

The first people to use the new Open Farm premises was the Scottish Hereford Breeders Club, when 80 member turned out to view the facilities and the herd.

Beer and a burger on the patio of the Open farm education building

Beer and a burger on the patio of the Open farm education building

But, it turned into a red letter day, too, for the herd as it was also awarded the Scottish Hereford herd of the Year title – much to the delight of Margaret Cameron.

Visitors saw first hand the impressive facilities at Balbuthie and a fantastic herd of productive animals, both commercial and pedigree were on parade, with a stockjudging showcasing some of the best youngstock in the herd. George Harvey presided as club chairman and the judge for the herds competition was Tom Harrison, from Northumberland, who placed the entries as follows:

Scottish Herefeord Breeders Club chairman, George Harvey, welcomes visitors to Balbuthie

Scottish Herefeord Breeders' Club chairman, George Harvey, welcomes visitors to Balbuthie

Scottish Hereford Breeders Herd competition:

Overall champion – Margaret Cameron's Baldinnie herd.

Stock bulls – 1, Knockmountagh Chief, Billy Andrews; 2, Moralee 1 Roland Rat, Margaret Cameron; 3, Solpoll 1 Nobility, Ian Skea.

Heifer calves – 1, Baldinnie 1 Kay 38, Margaret Cameron; 2, Drumboy 1 Veno Keepsake, Gavin Dunbar; 3, Milovaig 1 Lady Anva, Callum Smith.

Bull calves – Glenlivet 1 Hero, Molly Stuart; 2, Bennachie 1 Vintage, Ian Skea; 3, Harveybros 1 Vavavoom, Harvey Bros.

Small herd – 1, Bennachie, Ian Skea; 2, Kileekie, Serena Sykes; 3, Harveybros, Harvey Bros.

Large herds – Baldinnie, Margaret Cameron; 2, Arranview, Billy Andrew; 3, Milovaig, Callum Smith

Scottish Hereford Breeders Club stockjudging:

Gents – 1 and overall, Sam Parsons; 2= and second overall, Jamie Harvey and Hugh Ironside; 3, Bruce Douglas.

Ladies – 1, Kelly Stuart; 2, Hannah Murdoch; 3, Lynne Rennie.