Glenapp Estate, Girvan, Ayrshire
• Outstanding innovation
• Stress-tests ideas thoroughly
• Clear leadership
• Inspires his team
Charlie Russell’s vision for the future is as clear as the Atlantic Ocean view from the 1,400ft summit of the Glenapp estate. “If I’m trying to do anything here it’s to show that hill farming can really perform. It’s not the poor relation any more.”
Just 24 when he applied for the farm manager’s position at the Earl of Inchcape’s Glenapp Estate, he had no doubt about whether he was up to the job.
The estate’s board felt he was far too young, but agreed he could join as farm grieve, or foreman. If this came as a disappointment, it was, at least, a temporary one. A few weeks later Charlie was in the boss’s chair.
Since then he has worked tirelessly in his expanded role of estate factor and farms manager to transform much of the farming operations on the estate, with a clear eye on enterprise profitability.
Thirty-four years old, and from a farming family in Aberdeenshire, Charlie studied agriculture at Aberdeen University and went on to read rural business management at the Scottish Agricultural College.
He prepares his own budgets and updates the estate’s board on forecast and actual performance regularly. Charlie admits he likes his figures and using key performance indicators to set goals for him and his team. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t do anything about it.”
Charlie has driven some remarkable changes at Glenapp. The suckler herd, which was based on a purchased Holstein Friesian-cross-Angus cow, has been replaced with a homebred blend of performance recorded Beef Shorthorn, Angus, Luing and Simmental bloodlines. Cows are spring calving and are expected to produce a calf that grows at 1kg a day from birth to weaning.
The old system of lambing 2,000 Mule ewes indoors, plus 2,500 Scottish Blackfaces on the hill ground, is gone. Instead, Charlie has introduced new, wool-shedding, easy-care genetics and an outdoor lambing system to “breed the ultimate sheep for our grazing, climate and cost structure to maximise sustainability and profits”.
But perhaps the most impressive development at Glenapp has been the creation of a new, extensive dairy enterprise producing milk from grass – New Zealand-style. The years 2009 and 2010 saw the conversion of three beef and sheep units to a paddock-grazing system with a 70-point rotary parlour and stand-off areas. Crossbred Jersey and New Zealand Friesian cows are block-calved between early February and late April and dried off in mid-December. The herd average is 18.5 litres a day but Charlie is producing milk at an impressive margin over the cost of production. For him, the commercial opportunity was clear. “We have a land base here where we can run a milk-from-grass system and we could establish a dairy herd for £1,000 a cow instead of £6,000-7,000 a cow.
The people at Glenapp are as important to Charlie as the land and the stock.
“Labour is the key to any successful breeding stock business and I am delighted to work alongside some of the most technically proficient stockmen and women in the business. At Glenapp, we aim to be the best and therefore we must employ the best.
• 350 suckler cows
• 4,200 hill and upland ewes
• 700 outwintered, grass-fed dairy cows
• 1,633ha commercial and amenity forestry
• 1,493ha in conservation
The skills of a good farm manager are wide-ranging and the role goes far beyond what the title suggests. Charlie is a worthy winner and a fine ambassador for his profession
Trevor Tyrrell, Regional Director of Global Sales
2011 Farmers Weekly Awards