SEARCH for the opportunities within your existing farm business, an enterprising dairy farmer told a business breakfast at the Royal Highland Show.

Jim Shanks from Standhill Farm near Hawick addressed a group of next generation farmers at a breakfast meeting at the Strutt and Parker.

Mr Shanks, a fifth generation farmer, has transformed his dairy enterprise into an innovation hub with tomatoes growing in four-acre commercial glass houses fed by the excess heat produced by an anaerobic digester which is in turn fed by the slurry from his cattle.

The Nuffield scholar told farmers that he was inquisitive and intrigued by how things could be done. He told them to talk to other farmers and share information, draw inspiration from peers, and work out where opportunities might lie in existing enterprises.

Mary Munro, head of farming for Strutt and Parker in Scotland, said: “Successful farm businesses need to adapt. Jim Shanks is a prime example of someone looking at assets and maximising opportunities. He is a dairy farmer first and foremost but in the last 10 years he has developed his business beyond recognition. He has taken steps to protect himself from business uncertainty and has created a very successful business. That is the key message today. He is an inspiration to us all.

“These are indeed times of unprecedented uncertainty and there is a real danger that the current vacuum in terms of development of future agri-policy may lull farmers into inertia. However, now is not the time to sit back and wait. The key is for farmers to step back from the day job and review their assets, their business and their production systems. It is paramount that farmers develop a very firm understanding of their strengths and weaknesses.

“There is potential for innovation and development. Those opportunities are going to be different for every farm; some options may be for non-farming enterprises but the key is to really examine your farm business and work out where there may be scope to do something different.”