Borders has starring role in 300 Farmers of Scotland

Diversify to survive...was key at Glenrath Farm and it has turned into a major success story for John Campbell OBE.
Diversify to survive...was key at Glenrath Farm and it has turned into a major success story for John Campbell OBE.
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With 16,000 farmers the length and breadth of Scotland, there’s a rich seam of talent in our country.

And it’s that seam Eilidh MacPherson tapped into to create her latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

Mixed fortunes...it's been a tough road for David Mactaggart from Hallrule, Bonchester Bridge, but this one man band has shown true grit and accolades along the way.

Mixed fortunes...it's been a tough road for David Mactaggart from Hallrule, Bonchester Bridge, but this one man band has shown true grit and accolades along the way.

The editor of a bi-monthly magazine focusing on the farming industry, Eilidh used her contacts to get started on the book.

She personally knew around 80 farmers who are featured and word of mouth helped her discover even more who had stories to tell.

The compilation provides a glimpse of the innovation used by today’s farmers to ensure they not only survive but thrive.

Eilidh said: “I found it really interesting finding out what the farmers are doing differently these days – it was very enjoyable.

Starring role...a spotlight is shone on the Borders and its many farmers in Eilidh MacPherson's latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

Starring role...a spotlight is shone on the Borders and its many farmers in Eilidh MacPherson's latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

“The truth is I’ve only just scratched the surface as there are around 16,000 farmers in Scotland.

“However, I’ve already started on the second installment and I’m hoping that will be ready in time for Christmas this year.”

300 Farmers of Scotland was released in December to rave reviews.

Given its rich farming heritage, it is perhaps little surprise that the Borders is so heavily featured within its 280 glossy pages.

The Borders covers 473,299 hectares, of which 383,000 is farmland and there are a staggering 2515 farms including ten dairy, 377 specialist sheep,122 specialist beef, 36 specialist poultry and 336 mixed.

Understandably, therefore, Eilidh had the pick of the crop for her book.

Among the farmers from the Southern Reporter’s patch featured in this first installment are Nigel Miller of Stagehall, Galashiels, John Campbell of Glenrath, Peebles and David Mactaggart of Hallrule, Bonchester Bridge.

Each has their own story to tell about farming locally and how it has changed.

Past president of the National Farmers Union, Nigel Miller is undoubtedly an expert in his field.

He farms 1500 acres at Stagehall Farm, which includes 600 acres of heather hill and scree, sheep, beef and arable enterprises.

Two of Nigel’s four sons, Malcolm and Angus, help run the farm – as he describes it, a primitive, traditional system, not progressive or scientific in the slightest.

Arguably, though, the toughest period the Millers’ faced was during the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 when Nigel volunteered as a vet.

Recalling that period in the book, he said: “It was the most extreme time of my life – it was pretty much living on the edge.

“What people were going through, for them it was appalling.

“It left a mark on me how extraordinarily resilient and kind people were in such dark and difficult circumstances – I could never forget.”

Diversifaction was key to Glenrath Farm’s survival and it’s something John Campbell OBE remembers only too well.

Having moved to Peebles 55 years ago, when John was just 25, the Campbells had no option but to diversify.

John explained: “We had to diversify to meet the capital repayments on the money we borrowed to buy the farm. One must have vision and commitment to diversify.”

The family moved into egg production in 1970 and marketed their produce to local shops and businesses.

Glenrath Farms Ltd is now the largest egg producer in the UK.

John added: “You have to give customers what they want, how they want it and when they want it.”

Winning the title of Sheep Farmer of the Year in 2006 was no mean feat for David Mactaggart of Hallrule Farm.

But his efforts to reform his traditional system earned him the accolade.

David and his wife Juliette bought the tenanted farm in 1987 and by 1991 had no option but to make the shepherd redundant.

David said: “I wasn’t a shepherd; every mistake I made was a steep learnig curve. I did, however, have the advantage of trying things which a traditional shepherd may have considered a bit bizarre!”

He introduced May lambing and a Romney cross, both of which have been a big success. But the happiness has been tinged with sadness too, as David’s 17-year-old daughter Sarah-Jane died from meningitis and Juliette lost her battle with cancer just six months later.

To find out more about David’s story, and many other Borders farmers besides, 300 Farmers of Scotland is available now, priced £25.

Eilidh speaks from experience

Eilidh MacPherson combines hill sheep farming at Marbrack – between Ayr and Castle Douglas – with her husband Richard Nixon.

Together they farm 2500 acres carrying 1200 Blackface sheep.

Eilidh is also editor of a now bi-monthly publication, Farming Country magazine, which was known as farmingscotland.com when it was free.

Her last book From Thistle to Fern, which was published a decade ago, featured Scots who had emigrated to New Zealand and set up the High Country Sheep Stations.

Eilidh is a hill sheep and beef farmers’ daughter from the Isle of Skye and headed off overseas once she graduated from Edinburgh in agriculture.

She spent six seasons as a professional sheep shearer, employing Kiwis on Skye, then headed to the Antipodes for the winter.

She managed a lamb group, worked for Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb and then as an independent livestock buyer.

While in New Zealand, Eilidh wrote full time for the New Zealand Farmer for a couple of years – covering Southland and South Otago.

She also freelanced for a number of other titles including High Country Herald, Shearing Magazine, Southland Times and the Otago Southland Farmer.

Farmingscotland.com magazine was launched in September 2003, on her return from overseas – a free monthly title.

It changed its name to Farming Country in 2012 so it could be sold in newsagents and shops across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.

300 Farmers of Scotland is available now from local outlets, priced £25. Follow Eilidh on Facebook at farmingscotland.com or Twitter @farmingscotland.