FARMERS and crofters have been invited to three events showcasing regional opportunities to improve their productivity.

The Rural Innovation Support Service (RISS) has teamed up with Scotland’s Rural College and the NFU Scotland to invite farmers to three free lunchtime events showcasing the help available for them to make the most out of their upland farm business – at Dingwall, on February 19, at Lockerbie on March 8 and Pitlochry on March 19.

“Change is always unsettling,” said Davy McCracken, head of SRUC’s Hill and Mountain Research Centre, who will introduce the workshops. “And hill farmers and crofters can’t easily influence high level changes such as LFASS payments or access to international markets for lamb. But there are other changes – such as improving livestock productivity or marketing products locally – that they can more easily control.”

Farming 8000 acres of mainly upland near Inverness, David Girvan of Corrimony Farm, will tell attendees about changes he has made to optimise productivity without over-reliance on either subsidies or diversification. “If I’m going to farm, the farm needs to stand on its own two feet,” he said. “I’ve brought in rotational grazing and changed breeds of sheep and cattle. I’ve been buying less feed because I’ve got more grass, and through grazing groups I’ve started measuring kilograms of live weight per hectare rather than price per beast, and I can see that going up every year.”

Jim Simmons of Ruthven Farm, Tomintoul, will talk about how he’s used environmental and forestry grants to enhance farm productivity – how increasing shelter has improved his lamb survival rates, for example. “Most farmers say they plan to leave the land in a better condition than they found it. For me, ‘better’ means more sustainable,” he said.

“Hill farming, and farming generally, can be very isolating,” added Colleen McCulloch, innovation manager at Soil Association Scotland, who will present RISS as a mechanism for farmers to pull an innovative project together. “These events aim to get people sharing ideas, looking at funding opportunities and maybe even working together,” she said.

NFU Scotland’s Highland regional manager Ian Wilson said: “This workshop is a fantastic opportunity for those farming and crofting in our hills and uplands to hear from those who have done something differently to secure the future of their business, whether that be changes to the way they run their farm or croft or through diversification. This is also the chance to hear about funding streams available to individuals and groups of farmers and crofters looking to innovate to make their business more profitable; less reliant on support and generally more resilient for the changing times ahead.”

Booking for these events is essential, and can be done online, or by calling 0131 370 8146.