Preparing ground for next generation of family farmers

Andrew being presented with his Lantra Learner of the Year Award from Allan Bowie, President of NFU Scotland.
Andrew being presented with his Lantra Learner of the Year Award from Allan Bowie, President of NFU Scotland.

Nearly 75% of Scotland’s land mass is under agriculture and each year the sector contributes over a billion pounds to the Scottish economy.

People working within agriculture have a huge responsibility not only to help support Scotland’s economy and feed its people, but also to shape and determine the future of the landscape we see around us.

The next generation of farmers fortunate enough to be doing this on a privately owned farm are faced with the added pressure of taking over the family business. Someone who knows all about this is Lantra Scotland’s 2016 Agriculture Learner of the Year and CARAS award winner, Andrew Dixon.

Andrew (19) is the youngest of four siblings and lives and works on the family’s mixed farm near Whitsome. The farm is owned by Andrew’s father Philip Dixon and uncle James Dixon, who have run a successful arable and livestock enterprise for nearly 26 years.

Andrew completed his Modern Apprenticeship Level 3 in Mixed Farming while working on the farm and studying at Borders College. As well as winning the agriculture category at Lantra Scotland’s Learner of the Year awards in March, Andrew also won the Best Practical Student for Agriculture at Borders College last year and was nominated for the Junior Young Farmer of the Year Award.

Despite being one of farming’s rising stars, the prospect of taking over the family farm is a daunting one, with expectations from other family members and the pressure of making a success of the farm ever present. But Andrew has a positive outlook and is relishing the challenges that lie ahead.

“There’s no doubt I do feel pressure - there is a lot of responsibility taking over a farm that has been well managed and run for nearly 30 years,” said Andrew.

“The future success of the farm is down to me and that’s a big responsibility. My greatest fear is failure, but I am pretty confident that with my enthusiasm for what I do, I will make a success of the farm.

“I’ve already got some ideas of how I will take things forward - I’m interested in introducing a suckler cow herd into the mix and there is capacity to build more sheds to help increase production and provide storage options for grain and other feeds. I also run a small contracting business where we provide machinery and manpower to help neighbouring farmers during busy periods.”

Andrew’s father Philip commented: “I think one of the biggest problems facing young farm owners is the peer pressure to over invest, particularly in expensive farm machinery. However, radical change is not always necessary. A good mixed farm is a strong formula for success. Keep what you have and do it well.

“I try to guide Andrew in the right direction and largely we have similar views. I’m always open to change as long as Andrew thinks things through carefully. We both agree the farm needs more investment in livestock. There is a bit of a gap in the market for well-bred sheep, so this could be an option. My advice to farmers taking over the family farm is to always watch your fixed costs, work hard and don’t be afraid to do your own thing.”

Andrew added: “It’s sometimes hard to get my ideas across, but I think for the right reasons. My dad and uncle need to know that any changes are going to benefit the business rather than be a drain. Building new grain sheds or buying new livestock for example, are major investments, so you need to make sure the numbers add up.”

Having the confidence and belief to make a success of a family farm often comes down to the skills and experience built up during the interim years. Modern Apprenticeships are one of a number of schemes designed to give young farmers the foundation they need. The framework provides a flexible route for learning and applying skills in the workplace.

A Modern Apprentice is an employee who is paid a wage and learns from the skills and experience of people around them, whilst working towards a nationally recognised Scottish Vocational Qualification. Employers, employees and training providers work together in partnership, with Modern Apprenticeships typically taking from one to three years to complete.

Training takes place in the workplace with support from colleges and private providers and helps employees get a wider understanding of their job.

Kevin Patrick, National Director of Lantra Scotland, said: “As one of Scotland’s top Modern Apprentices, I’m sure Andrew will make a great success of his family farm.

“By studying the theoretical side of agriculture during his SVQ at Borders College, as well as learning hands-on skills on the farm, Andrew is acquiring the right balance of business skills, experience, confidence and self-belief. Running any farm, whether family-owned or rented, is a big responsibility, but with the right attitude, experience and training, new entrants like Andrew can make a substantial contribution to Scotland’s rural economy.”