SIX YOUNG farmers are to go head-to-head to become Scotland’s Young Farmer of The Year in less than a months’ time.

Over the next three weeks, The Scottish Farmer will catch up with the individual finalists to hear about their background in the industry and their involvement in the competition.

Four years ago, the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs launched the YFOTY competition for the first time, with the idea stemming from the successful competition which takes place in New Zealand.

It has since become a hit here in Scotland with past participants praising the experience for improving both their business skills and connections, to help take their own businesses forward.

During the regional rallies held in July this year, members had to complete a range of tasks from quad bike driving to meat identification, and their individual scores were tallied up and six finalists selected.

The six members were then invited to a farm in Kinross on Tuesday, November 2, where they were then tasked with coming up with a fictional business plan as to how they would improve efficiency or make any changes to the operation.

They will then have to present their business case to a panel of judges at the final, as well as completing another set of challenges, still to be revealed.

Read more: Black tie event to celebrate SAYFC stars

Usually, the final would coincide with the Royal Highland Show, but this year, due to Covid-19, the decision was taken to postpone the event and run it in conjunction with SAYFC’s ‘Five Star Awards Night’ taking place at the Royal Highland Show’s new member’s pavilion on Saturday, December 4.

The winner will be announced during the black-tie event, amongst other award winners, celebrating young farmers and their tremendous efforts to inspire members and support local communities during the pandemic.

Alastair MacIver

Two of the six finalists for this year’s competition hail from the north of Scotland and first up in our short series is arable farmer Alastair MacIver, from the Black Isle.

The 23-year-old works full-time alongside his father at Easter Auchterslow Farm, where their main operation is growing spring barley and winter wheat. They also rent out ground for tatties, keep wintering sheep and are busy with contracting work all year-round.

Alastair went straight to Oatridge College after leaving school, where he studied Agricultural Engineering for two years, before then going on to complete an HNC in Agriculture at Craibstone.

Having dreamt of going to New Zealand to work for many years, he travelled there himself for a silage season in the September of 2019 and just made it back into the country before Covid-19 put a halt to international travel in March 2020.

He has been an active member of Inverross YFC since he was 14 and has held the position of chairman for the past three years. Despite his club not tending to take part in as many competitions as others in the region, he told me they are still buzzing from knocking Bower YFC off the top podium spot at this year’s Highland Rally.

This is Alastair’s first year taking part in the YFOTY competition and he said that holding the eliminations round at the same time as the regional rallies was a great way to encourage more members, particularly from the north, to take part.

On the day, Alastair was the highest individual scorer in the practical sessions, which involved tasks such as time trials with a forklift; a sheep demonstration discussing different breeds; and feed identification.

“All of our members were down for the rally, and we were able to enter as many events as we liked, so all ended up getting involved,” said Alastair. “It was a great way to get more members involved as so often these big competitions mainly feature clubs in the south.”

The next stage of the competition will include all six finalists putting together their individual business plans for a farm in Kinross. They will be given free-rein and a large pot of hypothetical cash to invest in whatever ventures they see fit to make changes to the current business.

“It was great to see the farm in Kinross and get an understanding for the place and to really start thinking about how best to take the place forward,” he continued. “There is plenty of potential as long as the money is right, and we have £500,000 to work with.

“At the final we will present the business case to a panel of judges which includes a 500-to-2000-word business plan. We need to prove to the judges that our business plan is the one which will make the farm most profitable.

“An activity like this has been so useful in growing our confidence in our own decisions back home. It pushes you to think outside the box and look at ventures you might not have considered before.

“I would say to other young farmers to put your name forward for this competition as if you don’t do it, you’ll just regret it,” said Alastair.

Daniel Skinner

Pig farmer Daniel Skinner threw his hat into the ring for the first time for the YFOTY competition this year and told The SF he was pleased to see a good regional spread of finalists.

The 24-year-old works alongside his father at Lazyfold Farm, near the village of Insch, Aberdeenshire, where together they run a 450 sow pig unit. He explained that they breed everything themselves and fatten all progeny to finish.

As well as growing his own barley and wheat to feed the pigs, he also has gone into a side venture in keeping sheep – 190 Cheviot ewes that have been put to a Texel tup.

Daniel completed two years at Craibstone doing an HND in agriculture before coming straight home to work on the family farm. Outside of the farm he has been kept busy with his local young farmers club Garioch YFC, where he presently holds the role of chairman, having held various office posts over the years, since joining the club at 14 years old.

He told The SF how he ‘accidentally’ got involved with entering this year’s YFOTY competition but is now glad he did: “I was competing at the rally this summer which was happening in conjunction with the YFOTY competition. Without realising I had already done a few of the tasks as part of the rally, so when another member suggested I took part in the elimination quiz as an extra, it turned out I had then taken part in the full YFOTY eliminations and managed to qualify as a finalist.”

He said that some of the tasks involved a quad bike driving test, making a halter, completing a quiz and a weeds and disease identification.

“Halter making wasn’t my strong suit, given the fact I have no cattle on the farm,” he laughed, but his overall performance was strong enough to clinch him a place in the final.

Daniel travelled down to Kinross last Tuesday to visit the farm which would form the foundations of his business plan for the final part of the competition.

“I don’t know what I was expecting in Kinross, possibly an arable or dairy unit, but I had no idea there were so many hills there and the farm itself was a cattle and sheep unit.

“We have been asked to put forward a hypothetical business plan for the place as to how we would envision running it and how we would make changes to what is already there to improve it.

“It is a really great idea to give young farmers this experience, to play with money we don’t have, it really builds you confidence for your own business.

“It is also really helpful to have mentors from RBS talking us through our decisions, and these contacts will be very helpful long-term. It isn’t often you get a chance to get feedback on your ideas.”

He pointed out that for his own pig farm, times have been tough of late due to the backlog of pigs on farms and losing the export license to China. Although he wouldn’t be making any immediate changes to his operation, he praised the scheme for building his confidence and business skills and highly encouraged other members to get involved in years to come.

Looking ahead to the final weekend where he will be presenting his business case to judges in the morning then participating in the black tie awards at night, he said: “It is time to get back to normal and it will be great to have so many people together again and also get to have a nosy at the new members pavilion.”

His own club is in the running for the community and engagement award after their efforts in supporting the local community in Insch to try stop the closure of the local hospital.

After what has been a tough 18 months for many young farmers with club activities moving online, Daniel remains positive that the future of the association remains strong: “People with ties to farming will always want to keep in touch with the community and SAYFC is the perfect way to meet like-minded young people.”