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Stackyard News Jan 2010

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New Monitor Farm to be Shining Example

Livestock farmers across the North East of England are being invited to take part in a cutting edge experiment aimed at making the farm of the future.

Farmers are being urged to both join the business group and put their farms forward for consideration as the local Monitor Farm.


English Farming and Food Partnerships (EFFP) has been awarded over £195,000 from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) under the LandSkills North East initiative to establish a Monitor Farm in Northumberland to explore best farming practice and provide a beacon to other farmers in the region over the next couple of years.

LandSkills North East, managed by Lantra Sector Skills Council on behalf of One NorthEast, is looking to support a wide range of training projects like this to help farmers and foresters make the most of their businesses now and in the future.

The money will allow XL Vets, North Northumberland Agricultural Training Association, Eblex and EFFP to establish a Monitor Farm in Northumberland and farmers are being urged to either put their farms forward to become the Monitor Farm or join the business group that will benefit from studying it.

Aimed at livestock farmers, the programme will include a range of activities around the themes of Farm Business Competitiveness, Nutrient Management and Animal Health and Welfare all focused on improving the profitability and viability of livestock farms.

Monitor farms have been thriving in Scotland for over four years and follow the successful model established in New Zealand, when subsidies there were withdrawn. These farms were set up to show best practice methods to other local farmers. The big plus – and the reason behind the initiative – is evidence that the Scottish Farmers most involved in the programme profited by seeing a 10 year benefit to their businesses in just three years.

The aim is to establish one Monitor Farm in the north of the region and one Monitor group in the south of the region around the Tees Valley.

There will also be a series of on farm demonstration events where farmers will have the opportunity to look at the ways that other farmers are maximising the productivity of their farms and improving the health and welfare of their animals.

Doug Gray, regional manager for EFFP explains the selection process: “It is important that farmers get involved at this pre selection stage of the project to help identify a suitable monitor farm and to ensure that the project delivers the type of information they really need. We are looking for a small group of farmers to come together to help select the farm and we also want to hear from farmers that may be interested in being the monitor farm.”

A group of six local farmers will select a farming enterprise that best represents their type of livestock farming. Following a comprehensive review of the farm, a business plan is then developed which addresses the key issues of the farm, with the aim of ultimately improving the business.

The plan is then implemented and managed over four to five years and the chosen farmer will benefit from all the skills and experience of the group. The group can also draw on the advice and experience of other professionals from within the industry. The monitor farm will hold 6 events throughout the year where the group of farmers will come together and monitor the progress of their joint plan.

Adrian Sherwood, RDPE Manager at One North East, said: “It is essential that we continue to work with farms to help them become more competitive and sustainable. This project will develop a partnership of like-minded individuals who can work together exchanging expertise and essential knowledge, creating greater collaboration between farmers with an aim of improving their businesses.”

Once a year an Open Day is held on the farm to demonstrate good practice to other farmers and monitor the impact of the changes implemented as John MacFarlane of Alnorthumbria Vets explains:

“We are looking for a farmer who is interested in developing their business and seriously addressing some of the problems they are currently facing. Animal health issues are costing farmers money and by working with the host farmers to identify the health problems on farm and implementing new ways of working will help other farmers see the benefits of improving the health of their sheep and cattle”.

In addition to being the monitor farm, the host will also receive a nominal fee for hosting the project. In turn the entire business group gains from the unique opportunity to see a local farm in action on land similar to theirs, where the same issues of weather, energy use, soil and markets apply. They can see what the monitor farmer’s stock looks like, which machinery gets the job done and what the bottom line in profitability is for each part of the business.

Over three years the group will see and hear the hard facts of the actual cost of farming in their area – real market prices, accurate fixed and variable costs, the true profit or loss and the benefits of a penny or a pound saved here and there. Monitor farms offer opportunities for a wide range of specialists to speak to an audience eager to consider agricultural innovation and evolution.

Neil Thomson of Caverton Mill, near Kelso, has been a QMS Scottish Monitor Farm for 3 years and he is convinced of the advantages. “This has been a fantastic experience which has helped us improve our farming practices and brought many benefits to the business. We have had access to outside specialists and together with members of our Community Group, we have had some excellent discussion about key issues. The environment has also been included–a complete bird survey has been conducted which is both fascinating and very useful. My advice to anyone thinking about becoming a monitor farm is to Go for it and give it 100% commitment.”

Anyone interested in being part of the farmers group helping to select the monitor farm or interested in putting their farm forward as the Monitor Farm should contact Doug Gray on 07525 299243 or by 30th January 2010.

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