Three years in spotlight for Alistair

Alistair Hodge at home on Whitsome East Newtown Farm which will be the new arable monitor farm
Alistair Hodge at home on Whitsome East Newtown Farm which will be the new arable monitor farm

The Borders has a new Monitor Farmer.

Over the next three years volunteer Alistair Hodge, a 34-year-old cereal grower from Whitsome East Newton, Duns, will have his farming methods and management scrutinised by his peers. Together they will seek to find more efficient ways of doing things.

Supported by a facilitator, Scottish Agriculture College (SAC) consultant Donald Dunbar, they will try new ideas in a project funded by HGCA, the cereal industry development body and the Scottish Government.

Monitor Farms were first developed in New Zealand where self-help groups of farmers replaced Government funded advisory systems. SAC has played a key role in developing the concept in Scotland with Scottish Government and industry bodies like HGCA and Quality Meat Scotland providing funding and other support. The new Borders Monitor Farm at Duns follows on from Hugh Broad from Gifford, East Lothian who has just stepped back after three years in the spotlight.

Its success, like that of the new farm, depended on the input of the community group gathered round it. Members included local farmers and other industry representatives. Those interested in joining the new group attended the first meeting in Whitsome Village Hall last Tuesday.

Alistair Hodge arrived in the Borders in 2001 when, with his father and mother, he moved from a stock farm in Wigtownshire. Married to Marianne, with an 18-month-old son, former SAC student Alistair leads on the day to day planning on the farm. He and his father John share the management decision making, while Marianne’s accountancy expertise are invaluable.

Alistair said: “I was extremely pleased to be selected as the new monitor farmer and looking forward to getting started. I hope to be able to draw on the experience of others who have been arable farming for longer than us and trying out some new ideas put forward by the group.

“The prospect of sharing details of the farm performance is a little daunting, but should ultimately improve the business going forward.”

Whitsome East Newton is 156 hectares (385 acres) with heavy clay soil. The cropping rotation includes winter barley, winter oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring oats. In addition the family let five cottages and finish cattle throughout the year under a management agreement.

The arable Monitor Farm Programme is funded by HGCA (the cereals and oil seeds division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) with support from the Scottish Government’s Skills Development Programme.

Steve Barras, HGCA’s Supply Chain Manager said: “We are delighted to be starting a new arable monitor farm in the Borders. We look forward to working with SAC and Alistair Hodge. This investment will bring physical and financial benefits to him and the wider community”.

SAC monitor farm facilitator Donald Dunbar added: “I’m looking forward to working with Alistair and seeing a good turn out at the launch meeting. The community group is an essential part of any monitor farm project and the contribution they make in group discussion and the collective experience they bring combined with the specialist input is what makes the monitor farm concept so successful.”