Selkirk’s Sion is runner-up farm manager of the year

Farm Manager finalist in this year's Farmers Weekly Awards, Sion Williams
Farm Manager finalist in this year's Farmers Weekly Awards, Sion Williams

Bowhill Estate’s Sion Williams was joint runner-up for the Farmers Weekly magazine’s Farmer Manager of the Year title earlier this month.

Mr Williams manages the Buccleuch Group’s 3,786-hectare (9,355-acre) in-hand operations at the estate and efficiency improvements, and market-focused changes to sheep, cattle and arable enterprises have been central to his policies.

In his five years in the job, the estate’s farm business has been restructured and a new cattle complex built. With sheep, he has aimed to maximise output while minimising costs.

Mr Williams came to Bowhill as assistant manager on 2,023ha in 2004. He was promoted to manager within two years and the business expanded. He is responsible for 440 suckler cows in three herds, 4,500 ewes in six flocks, predominantly on heather moorland and rough grazing, and 973ha permanent pasture, temporary grass and cropping.

A cleaner grazing system has reduced worming from every three weeks to twice yearly for the breeding flock and three times a year for store and fat lambs.

Mr Williams has also introduced spring barley, oats and kale to provide more home-grown feed, giving improved lamb finishing results. EID records weights, movements and veterinary treatments across all cattle and sheep.

He says he aims to minimise risk at the same time as achieving a 10 per cent return on capital. Budgets are monitored monthly, while profit and loss is calculated quarterly.

The business has also become more market-focused, with extensive trial work comparing New Zealand and UK genetics. This identified a £28 a ewe difference in net margin between four breeds of ewes and led to hill crossbreed improvements through Aberdale and Aberfield genetics, he said.

The business is a member of Sainsbury’s lamb development group and sells all finished lambs to the retailer, mainly on contract through Dunbia. The shepherds get feedback on individual lambs from the abattoir, with each flock’s performance closely monitored against specification.

All enterprises are separately costed and benchmarked with QMS, while the overall business is benchmarked through a Scottish Enterprise development group. Membership of a discussion group also helps with ideas and comparisons, he said.

The sheep enterprise is profitable before subsidy, with net margin on store lambs at £12.42 a head, almost triple the SAC average. Net margins for the hill flocks are pushing into the top-third bracket.

He has taken an innovative approach to store cattle sales, including setting up a private sealed bid auction, with cattle weighed and sorted into lots on farm. This gave some control over prices and saved on haulage and commission, he said.

Renewable energy is likely to make an even bigger contribution in the future, says Mr Williams, and refining the sheep breeding will continue alongside adopting more new technology.

z Meanwhile, Duns farmer John Seed of Woodend, Gavinton, won the magazine’s Green Energy Farmer of the Year.