Deep farming roots combined with an eye for innovation sowed the seeds for Andrew Booth, Savock Farms winner of Arable Farm of the Year.

ALTHOUGH he farms a large acreage and is no stranger to commercial success, there can be no hiding from the fact that Andrew Booth is genuinely humbled to have won the inaugural title of Arable Farm of the Year.

The Scottish Farmer: Savock Farms is based near Foveran, AberdeenshireSavock Farms is based near Foveran, Aberdeenshire

He puts the pride and emotion he feels about the title down to the fact that fellow farmers headed up the judging panel.

“I was very nervous on awards night,” confides Andrew. “The whole evening was very special from start to finish.

“The fact the awards were judged by peers, people so well respected within the farming industry, meant a great deal to us.

The Scottish Farmer: Alongside the farm Andrew runs a successful contracting businessAlongside the farm Andrew runs a successful contracting business

“I came away and thought to have been shortlisted alongside any of the nominees - whatever farming sector they were from - was an absolute honour. All that talent in one room. It was great to celebrate Scottish agriculture and we were very honoured to be recognised among such an impressive line-up of finalists.”

Andrew is a sixth-generation farmer; the family initially worked the land on the outskirts of Aberdeen before moving to Savock Farms, near Foveran, in Aberdeenshire, in the 1960s.

He farms in partnership with his wife Debbie, who is an accountant, and his mother Pat.

The Scottish Farmer: Andrew has goals of improving yields and longterm soil healthAndrew has goals of improving yields and longterm soil health

“20-odd years ago we did nothing with the data gathered on the farm,” says Andrew. “Now, thanks to Debbie and our office manager Dawn, systems are in place so that we have it all at our fingertips - fuel, yield mapping, carbon auditing, staff, machinery costs - everything is available for us to look at with the touch of a button and analyse before we make any decisions.

“I would credit this use of data as one of the most influential developments we have made in recent years.”

Andrew’s father and grandfather, both George, purchased Savock Farm in 1962.

This home farm has been diversified along various furrows since then, with a contract farming business currently taking the hectares to around 1,600. The business has a number of goals including improving yields year on year and long-term soil health is at the heart of these joint ventures.

The Scottish Farmer: Oats make up a large percentage of Andrew's cropOats make up a large percentage of Andrew's crop

Oats make up a large percentage of the crops grown; with the Booth family having diversified four years ago into milling gluten free oats under their sister company Oat Co, which supplies the food manufacturers in the bakery, porridge, milk, and plant-based foods market. They jointly run this enterprise with lifelong friends Charlie and Jill Russell, who were on the Booth family’s table on awards night.

“To have them with us, along with our other guests, meant such a lot,” says Andrew. “The atmosphere was tremendous; a real showcase for Scottish agriculture.”

The oats form part of a strict rotation of three years of grass and three years of oats. The grass is fed into an on farm anaerobic digester. The 2.5MW ‘gas to grid’ AD plant was built in 2017 and is fed on grass and forage rye, it offers an outlet for waste supplies from oat plants so no wastage; in return providing a homegrown fertiliser that has not only improved soil health, but significantly reduced how much inorganic fertilisers used on the farm.

“Being the only BRC accredited gluten-free oat mill in Scotland, we have to be very careful of making sure there are no traces of previous gluten-based crops - the grass does an excellent job of this,” explains Andrew. “At the same time, it’s adding organic matter, improving soil structure, and reducing our reliance on inorganic fertilisers. Grass is an excellent crop for nutrient cycling, it can uptake and recycle excess nitrogen and other nutrients left in the soil by the previous crop while it has an excellent ability to sequester carbon.”

Andrew took the difficult decision in 2017 to close The Store farm shop the family had run for nearly 20 years and which had grown from a small sideline in a granite bothy to a full-blown shopping destination, offering Aberdeen Angus beef grown on the farm, ready meals as well as having Waitrose among its retail clients. However, one tradition that lives on from having diversification is feeding the workers in the evenings when they work late.

“During harvest, drilling, sileage - any time we are working late - we can be feeding 15-plus people on an evening. You can’t expect people to work late into the night without a decent meal inside them and we still do this today. It all helps create a good team atmosphere and the award is very much down to the whole team.”

While he likes to think of himself as a relief sprayer operator and has yet to have a harvest season without taking a turn behind the wheel of the combine, Andrew admits one of the biggest challenges as the business has grown has been knowing when to take a back seat.

“Having been so hands-on both Debbie and I have been on a journey, learning how to hand over responsibility to others,” explains Andrew, whose father George claims he is semi-retired.

“We’re now at a stage, with talented people like our farm manager Barry Lawson onboard, that you must realise when others have better skills. Barry has been a member of the team at Savock Farms for a number of years, and he is involved in all aspects of the day to day running of the business, by his own admission there are never two days the same here. Business opportunities, such as setting up the gluten-free oat business are healthy challenges that can provide huge experiences outside the walls of farming. It’s not easy when you have been used to taking every little decision yourself, but from the point of view of creating a sustainable business for the next generation it’s important to bring other skilled people on the journey with you.”

They also declared Andrew a worthy winner because of the way he had reduced risk to the business by creating the new markets, through the AD plant and gluten-free oat business.

“Our other crops – wheat, barley, and oil seed rape – are all driven by volatile world markets,” explains Andrew. “The addition of AD and OatCo Scotland to the farming mix has given us an element of business stability in an uncertain world.”

The Booth family has a target of improving the rolling five-year yield average on every farm, which the judges praised as no mean feat given that they are in a challenging part of the country.

“It is important to me that however much land we are farming we look after it as if it was our own,” concludes Andrew. “It was very heartening that the judges could see that too.”

Judges comment “Savock Farms has excellent management structure which delegates to and gives staff responsibility. Andrew is a worthy winner because of the way he had reduced risk to the business by creating the new markets, through the AD plant and gluten-free oat business.”