Aberdeenshire farmers take centre stage in new book

Farmer focus...Peter Cook doesnt just have his own sheep to worry about but helps others farmers too.
Farmer focus...Peter Cook doesnt just have his own sheep to worry about but helps others farmers too.
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With 16,000 farmers in 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.

In the limelight...Kenny Groat of Devenick Dairy supplies more than 150 outlets with cheese and yoghurt.

In the limelight...Kenny Groat of Devenick Dairy supplies more than 150 outlets with cheese and yoghurt.

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.

Promoting Scottish farmers and produce...is the key message from Leslie King, of Cairnfauld.

Promoting Scottish farmers and produce...is the key message from Leslie King, of Cairnfauld.

“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 instalment and I’m hoping that will be ready in time for Christmas this year.”

300 Farmers of Scotland was released in December.

And a number of farms in Aberdeenshire feature within its 280 glossy pages.

Family business...Colin and his wife Carol decided to go robotic to safeguard the farm's future for their sons Nicholas and Gavin.

Family business...Colin and his wife Carol decided to go robotic to safeguard the farm's future for their sons Nicholas and Gavin.

Covering 870,000 hectares and a farmland area of 680,000 hectares, Aberdeenshire and Moray boasts 2587 farms of 50 hectares or more.

There are 8883 farms and holdings, including 30 dairy farms, 425 specialist sheep, 723 specialist beef, 1083 cereal, 140 specialist poultry and 1468 mixed.

Understandably, therefore, it was no mean feat for Eilidh to select the pick of the crop for her book.

Among those featured in this first instalment are Peter Cook, from Aquithie, Kemnay, Kenny Groat, of Devenick Dairy at Bishopston Farm, Banchory, Leslie King, of Cairnfauld, Durris and Colin Marr and Sons, of Udny Station, near Oldmeldrum.

Peter and his wife Lynne have high profile careers in the agricultural industry.

Peter runs his own agricultural business 2 Mennie Cooks Ltd, while Lynne teaches under and post graduate broadcast journalism at RGU Aberdeen, as well as producing documentaries.

However, the couple also run their own farm business – a 190 acre sheep holding near Inverurie.

Peter’s opinion is often called upon by farmers looking to diversify.

In the book, he said: “Having a vision for the future shape of the business is important and the starting point for how you get there is a good understanding of your financial position.

“There are no rights and wrongs so it is important to be honest about where you would like to be in ten years time and what that means for the income you need.”

R&N Groat has been a family concern for more than half a century.

But that didn’t stop Kenny Groat turning poor milk prices into a business opportunity which has been successful for a decade.

The Groats have been making and selling cheeses and yoghurts and attend 13 farmers’ markets every month, as well as supplying more than 150 outlets and their own on-farm shop.

The Groats also market their own rose veal.

Kenny said: “A few people said it would never work – and that is always a great motivator for me.

“We had a lot of negative feedback but that is changing. But we’re aware that we are not filling a gap in the market – we are creating it and building it up one customer at a time.”

The King family arrived at Cairnfauld in November 1975 and have since extended its 180 acres to 250.

And Leslie King believes promoting what producers do is key for the market.

He said: “We farmers have to get out there and tell people what we do – and how well we do it. Scottish farmers do a fantastic job and have a product that is second to none. It’s not boasting, it’s stating a fact.”

Another family affair is Cultercullen Farm, run by Colin and Carol Marr and their sons Nicholas and Gavin. Dairying is the main thrust of the 850-acre enterprise with a 200-strong herd of milking cows.

A robotic milking system was introduced thanks to a grant from the Scottish Rural Development Programme.

Colin said: “We had very much reached a crossroads in terms of what to do next – upgrade existing facilities or replace them. The fact that both our boys were keen to be part of the business meant investment in new technology was the way forward.”

The cows now produce 8200 litres a year.

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, priced £25. The book is in stock at Harbro in Inverurie,Mintlaw,Turriff and Huntly, as well as Castleton Farm Shop, Fordoun.