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Monitor Farm for Upper Teesdale
2010-06-01

Cragg Top Farm in Langleydale near Barnard Castle which includes Burnforth and Forthburn will become a Monitor Farm and a centre of excellence for local hill and upland farmers.

L-R Carl Stephenson farmer and member of the Steering
Group, Debby Brown from Castle Vets and Richard Ward.

Cragg Top Farm

EFFP, Eblex, Xl Vets & UTASS have announced today that over the next three years the 500 acre livestock operation, farmed by Richard Ward and his wife, has been selected as the Upper Teesdale Monitor Farm and as a result, it will be developed as an example of best practice for the Upper Teesdale area.

The monitor farm project, which is funded by LandSkills North East as part of the Rural Development Programme for England, aims to help farmers develop their businesses and improve the levels of profitability on the host farms and those of the farmers that get involved in the project.

The first Monitor Farm Open Day, to which all farmers from across the region are invited to attend, will be held at Cragg Top Farm on Friday 11th June from 10.00am until 2.00pm. Key speaker at this event will be livestock farmer, QMS board member and a former Monitor Farmer, Robert Parker. In 2004 his 200 hectare beef and sheep unit near Stranraer was chosen as a Scottish Monitor Farm in 2004. Other speakers at the event include Debby Brown from Castle Vets looking at parasite control and Faecal Egg Counting along with Ben Strugnell from the VLA Thirsk, talking about the Cobalt deficiency problems experienced on the farm.

A number of farms from across Weardale and Upper Teesdale applied to become the Monitor Farm. After lengthy consideration, the Monitor Farm Steering Group chose Cragg Top, as it is the most representative livestock farm in the area, and one where the lessons learnt would be transferable to similar farms. Cragg Top is a mixed farm, with 100 suckler cattle and 700 Lleyn sheep; Richard Ward already has a major role in an existing stabiliser cattle group and is seen as a progressive farmer, willing to change farming practices to increase profitability.

The concept of the Monitor Farm was originally developed in New Zealand and has been successfully used by the farming community in Scotland for the past five years, where farmers in the scheme have quickly seen noticeable benefits. Managed by Lantra Sector Skills Council on behalf of One North East, LandSkills North East and the monitor farm delivery partners are hoping that the lessons learnt at Cragg Top will bring similar benefits to our upland farms just like the similar LandSkills North East funded scheme being operated on Northumberland’s Monitor Farm at Donkin Rigg.

David Hall who is coordinating the project provides further background: - Cragg Top farm was chosen by the steering group as a farm with the types of issues facing other farmers in the region. Richard would like to develop a system which achieves good levels of performance and is easily managed. There are a number of challenges Richard faces along the way and the farmers getting involved in the project will be able to help in the decision making process and learn from the changes Richard makes to his business.

Perhaps more than any other industry, farming needs to avoid reliance on a single income stream. Currently Cragg Farm is reliant on a Single Farm Payment, but over the next three years there will be a move towards using Agricultural Environment Schemes as a more secure source of income. During the scheme, Richard is hoping to maximise the performance of both his sheep and cattle herds in terms of the weight of meat produced in kilos. It is also important that the system operates as efficiently as possible, minimising costs by maximising the production from the forage grown on the farm. At the moment all the stock is sold by auction at Darlington – however, the option of direct marketing will be assessed to see if this is a viable route to market, an area currently being developed by the Ward family.

In what is a common problem for many farmers, one of weaknesses identified is the huge amount of time simply spent maintaining and running the farm. The aim of the Monitor Farm Project will be to develop a system which allows the farm to be more easily managed to allow time for Richard to develop new ideas on farming practice.
Farmer Richard Ward tells us what he hopes to secure from the project: “I am looking forward to taking part in the scheme; local farms in Northumberland and County Durham will be able to use us as a benchmark for the duration of the project. The scheme should be interesting and rewarding. I like a challenge and want to ensure we have a viable farm business for the future and as a second generation tenant farmer with a young son, succession is an important issue.”

To ensure that all farmers across the region have the option to benefit from this showcase the open day will introduce the farm and outline the aims and objectives in more detail. They will have a unique opportunity to see a local livestock farm facing the same challenges and opportunities, to discuss the issues the farm has, and see the results of solutions employed. Throughout the duration of the project there will also be a series of discussion forums, both on and off site covering issues such farm business competitiveness, nutrient management and animal health and welfare with the ultimate aim of improving the profitability and viability of livestock farms.

During his presentation, Robert Parker will expand on the benefits of Monitor Farms and maximising suckler cow profitability using British native breeds. He also found that small changes can make a big difference; record keeping and measuring may be basic but they are an important way of showing how to move forward and improve efficiency.
Monitor Farm meetings are open to all farmers in the county and a steering group has been set up not only to give guidance to Richard but also to decide on the areas where other farmers want to see improvements. The steering group members from across the region are: John Birkett, Geoff Wilson, John Bell, Thomas Atkinson, Carl and Julia Stephenson, Alan Emerson, Joanne Bainbridge, Brian Beadle, David Monkhouse, Robin Peart, Bruce Watson and Graham Wilkinson.

link An Agreement to Farm Better Skills
link Not Too Late to Protect Single Farm Payments
link Opportunities to Improve Your Farm Business

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