"SOMETIMES you win, sometimes you learn!" This was the key message when diversification and adding value were the focus of Women in Agriculture Scotland's 2019 spring conference.

Held at Broomhall House near Charlestown, hosted by Lord Charles Bruce, the sold-out event saw women from all over the country come together to learn from a wide variety of well-known speakers.

Steven Mitchell – famed for The Buffalo Farm and his well-publicised appearances on This Farming Life – told his story and was up front about both his successes and his failures. The sixth-generation farmer admitted that he hadn’t got into the position he is currently in without having had a few stumbles, but explained that they had made him, and his business, stronger.

Mr Mitchell, who has diversified into farming buffalo and has also opened his own butchery operation, runs outside catering and has an on-site café within his farm steading, explained: “It is well known that we want to be the first buffalo mozzarella producers in Scotland, and we bought in dairy buffalos, only to then have to sell them again because the facilities we need for that side of our business weren’t ready in time.

“We were let down by our main investor and yes, it was incredibly disappointing and difficult to take, but in all honestly our business is now in a much stronger position to hopefully do what we are aiming to, and the mozzarella production plan is very much getting back on track.”

Stevie and his team now farm 400 buffalo and have a turnover of £15,000 a week for their home-grown butchery produce. Their café, The Bothy, is open seven days a week, and their catering business hits major events such as music festivals and international rugby games at Murrayfield in Edinburgh. All aspects of the business stemmed from attending some of the original farmers markets and building things from there.

Marketing and communications guru at Jane Craigie Marketing, Rebecca Dawes was next on the impressive line up. Alongside her extensive skills and experience in PR, digital, event curation and strategy, Rebecca is Scottish coordinator for LEAF Open Farm Sunday and took the opportunity to discuss the annual event and the importance of trying to bridge the gap – engaging the public, getting them to go out onto farms and see where their food and other products come from.

“There’s a definite disconnect between the general public and farming life, and we want to address that,” Rebecca explained. “We want to help the public understand where the food on the supermarket shelves comes from and Open Farm Sunday not only helps do that, but it also gives them experiences and helps people – especially kids – create memories.”

She continued: “We want to change the urban/rural split. Our data has show that people that have attended an Open Farm Sunday event are considerably more likely to go out and buy specifically UK-grown produce. People want to go on-farm and learn and we want to help them do that, and we’re looking for more farmers to take part and help as well!”

The afternoon session saw delegates take part in a practical workshop with Matthew Currie from Savills, who took the women through an exercise aimed at resilience through business planning, explaining that people shouldn't see things as failure when they don't get the results they thought they wanted.

"Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn," he said. "There is always something to take from a situation – even if it doesn't feel positive at the time!"