New beginning for arable farmers in the Borders

Alistair Hodge at home on Whitsome East Newtown Farm which will be the new arable monitor farm
Alistair Hodge at home on Whitsome East Newtown Farm which will be the new arable monitor farm
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The end of the Home-Grown Cereal Authority’s (HGCA) three-year monitor farm project in the Borders heralds a new beginning for the farming community.

The meetings and activities have been so well received that members are keen to continue the good work under their own steam. Four out of five farmers involved with HGCA’s Monitor Farm project at Alistair Hodge’s Whitsome East Newton made improvements to their businesses, from grain marketing to agronomy, during the programme which finished in December 2014.

Of the farmers at the Borders Monitor Farm (BMF), 80 per cent claimed to have changed the way they marketed their grain and 82 per cent agreed the project had improved their technical knowledge. Every member valued the opportunity to share experiences and discuss issues, and the vast majority would recommend attending a monitor farm.

Charlie McCirrick, a member of the BMF, said: “I think it opens up your mind, to think more laterally, and to look at other opportunities. It’s been hugely rewarding for me personally, for the knowledge I’ve gained.”

Mr Hodge’s monitor farm programme came to an end in December after three years of regular meetings attended by local farmers, agronomists and members of the wider agricultural industry, who all met together to find solutions to common problems through focusing on the host farm’s business.

“The format for learning, certainly works with arable,” said David Fuller-Shapcott, farmer and previous chairman of the Borders monitor farm.

“At the end of the project, what we have is better knowledge of our own businesses through being able to look at Alistair’s business in detail.”

Fellow local farmer John Hodge agreed, saying: “Once you get into a smaller group and get the discussion going, it’s amazing the ideas you get from other people and the benefit that it has in the long run.”

Alistair Hodge farms 154 hectares of combinable crops; runs five cottage lets and finishes cattle throughout the year under a management agreement.

He has been arable farming since 2001, growing winter wheat and barley for feed, as well as oats and milling wheat. As a host monitor farmer, his main objective was to draw on others’ experience and improve his business.

Alistair said: “There have been more benefits than I can number, not just financially, but from a business perspective, too. The contacts you make, and the ideas you get through the monitor farm process help the business.”

The monitor farm community group in the Borders comprised 38 growers, agronomists, agri-merchants, and a business gateway advisor. During 22 meetings, the group looked at soil, machinery, buildings and finance, as well as visiting processors.

Donald Dunbar, facilitator of the group, said: “We’ve covered a lot of topics. But it’s the knowledge exchange between the members of the community group as well as the knowledge transfer that comes from specialists that we brought to the meetings that’s been really rewarding and I thank Alistair for being such a good monitor farm.”