Berwickshire’s starring role in 300 Farmers book

Helping hand...James Dobie has eight lively Bearded Collies who help him operate the farm as a one-man band.
Helping hand...James Dobie has eight lively Bearded Collies who help him operate the farm as a one-man band.

With 16,000 farmers the length and breadth of 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.

One million pound...on a 32,000 bird poultry unit was money well spent according to David Runciman of Edington Mains, Duns.

One million pound...on a 32,000 bird poultry unit was money well spent according to David Runciman of Edington Mains, Duns.

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.

Starring role...Berwickshire farmers were to the fore in Eilidh MacPherson's latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

Starring role...Berwickshire farmers were to the fore in Eilidh MacPherson's latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

“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 to rave reviews.

Given its rich farming heritage, it is perhaps little surprise that the Borders is so heavily featured within its 280 glossy pages.

The Borders covers 473,299 hectares, of which 383,000 is farmland and there are a staggering 2515 farms including ten dairy, 377 specialist sheep,122 specialist beef, 36 specialist poultry and 336 mixed.

Understandably, therefore, Eilidh had the pick of the crop for her book.

Among the Berwickshire farmers featured in this first instalment are James Dobie, of Abbey St Bathans, David Runciman from Duns and Ali Gordon of St Abbs Head.

Each has their own story to tell about farming locally and how it has changed.

Sheep rancher James Dobie has a 1500 acre property, boasting a breeding flock of 4150 ewes. It is pretty unique in Scotland in that it is one man running all those sheep on one property.

James has also invested heavily in Highlanders in recent years.

Explaining why in the book, he said: “I’m at full capacity lambing indoors (1800 ewes) and needed to carry more stock so I reckoned I should look for a breed to do outdoor lambing.”

James supplies M&S from offspring of his 3500 Suffolk cross mule ewes.

He added: “Farming is a hard game to be in but farmers grind away and don’t give in easily.

“Let’s be honest, most farmers would be completely unemployable if they did throw in the towel!”

David Runciman at Edington Mains, Duns, believes investing £1 million in a 32,000 bird poultry unit was worth every penny.

And using the poultry manure in potash and potassium applications has already saved him £27,000.

But thinking ahead and moving with the times is something David is well renowned for.

Since he and his dad moved to Edington Mains with its 926 arable acres, they have constantly invested wisely.

David said: “The possibility of no Single Farm Payment in 2013 prompted us to look at the future.

“Our projected payback time on the hen house is five years, all going well.

“It was a good way for us to expand and it runs egg-ceptionally well with the arable farm.”

Having worked in Australia and New Zealand after graduating with an HND in agriculture, Ali Gordon returned to her family’s Northfield Farm in 1993, taking up a position as a shepherd.

She then became a partner in the business with her parents and brother three years later. And when her dad died a couple of years later, she took charge of the livestock side of the business.

She said: “We are in a bit of a tourist trap here with bird watchers, ramblers and divers descending every weekend so I do get a bit fed up with people telling me a cow is calving every 20 minutes or so.

“On the positive side, though, we are farming in a beautiful spot and it is an ideal location for my sister Carol’s coffee shop.”

Other Borders farmers telling their own unique stories in the book include James MacLean of Hutton Hall Barns, John and Donald Seed of Woodend Farm, Duns, George Hamilton of Ramrig, Duns, and Charley and Andrea Walker, Barnside, Abbey St Bathans.

300 Farmers of Scotland is out now, priced £25.

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 from local outlets, priced £25. Follow Eilidh on Facebook at farmingscotland.com or Twitter @farmingscotland.