THE SIX finalists of the ‘Young Farmer of the Year’ competition met last Friday in Lanark, to discuss the next stage of the competition ahead of the grand finale at the Royal Highland Show.

This top six have now been challenged with the task of preparing a business plan using a hypothetical scenario, which they will have a month to work on with the help of mentors from the Royal Bank of Scotland.

In a new twist to last year, the finalists were invited to Sandilands farm, owned by RHASS chairman Jimmy Warnock, which will form the hypothetical basis of their plan, in which they will have the opportunity to propose how they would develop the farm moving forward with £350,000 at their disposal.

The group were given a tour of Mr Warnock’s farm and had the opportunity to ask questions about the local area, competition, weather, soil quality and much more – giving them a ‘real feel’ for the task ahead.

Mr Warnock explained why he offered his farm for the exercise: “I think the young farmers are the life blood of our industry and anything I can do to foster them, encourage them and promote the future of our industry I will do it. Today they had the opportunity to see the farm as opposed to a fictional one and I think seeing is believing,” he insisted. “They have to come up with a plan now of how they would farm it to make a living and possibly a massive margin. They are not interested in what I’m doing at present but need to come up with their own plan with the backing of The Royal Bank of Scotland.”

Robert Campbell of Crossroads YFC, who is on the shortlist for the overall title for the second year running, commented on the potential at Sandilands: “We have been given a blank canvas and a farm which could pretty much do anything. You can build and develop things where you want, the potential here is phenomenal. It’s in a fantastic area, with a good mixture of land and a great outlook if you want to diversify.”

Head of the RBS agricultural credit team, Craig Dickson, will be one of the judges assessing the business proposals, and was on site to offer some advice to the finalists: “It’s important to leverage experience but don’t be scared to step out of your comfort zone. Be realistic about what you pitch, with a consideration of location and market research.”

Fellow judge and partner at Galbraith, Robert Taylor, added: “When you pitch your proposal, we want you to demonstrate what you have learnt on your journey. It might not always be about the most profitable business but about ensuring a sustainable operation.”

YF Agri-Affairs chairman Andrew McGregor – who was behind the creation of the competition over in Scotland – urged the finalists to enjoy the challenge: “Remember this is not an exam, this is meant to be a fun and engaging opportunity to allow you to experience something that many people might not get a chance to do.”