14 November 1997

Farming worries

fail to dent show

The gnawing uncertainty

surrounding the future of

beef and sheep farming will

be put to one side next

week when 10,000 people

will make their way to Perth

for the Scottish National

Winter Fair. Allan Wright

previews the event and also

measures the current state

of Scottish farming

SCOTLANDS winter fair has added national importance this year because there is no Royal Smithfield and the result has been a wider-than-normal geographic spread of entries for Perth and record numbers.

The entry is so high that the organisers have been forced to begin the judging next Tuesday evening.

This years winter fair also marks the centenary of the Scottish National Fat Stock Club and there will be extra prizes, commemorative sashes for champions and reserves, and a special centenary scroll for every exhibitor. A history of the club has been written and will be launched at the fair.

It will be a special day for a lot of people, but especially for Dumfriesshire farmer Andrew Hamilton, who is show president and proud to be at the helm with the centenary to end his three-year term of office.

"Its a great honour to be president in any year but especially this time," says the man who has been a council member since the late 70s and can remember back to the time when the show was at held in the old Waverley market in Edinburgh.

"The history of the club tells the whole story and people will be able to read that at their leisure. But it all started with the Ayrshire and District Blackface Sheep Breeders Club which was anxious to have a Scottish event at the time the Smithfield Show was getting off the ground in London.

Ayr Smithfield Club

"The Ayr Smithfield Club was formed and held its first show in 1885. That was only for sheep but cattle classes were added the following year and, building on that success, the Scottish National Fat Stock Club was formed in 1897," says Mr Hamilton.

Edinburgh was home to the event right up until 1979 when redevelopment of the Waverley Market forced a move to Ingliston and a winter fair organised jointly by the fat stock club, the newly formed Scottish Dairy Event, and the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society.

That lasted for 14 years but was never the happiest of marriages, and in 1993 the fat stock club moved to the new Perth market, leaving the dairy event as a single interest show at Ingliston.

The move to Perth was an immediate success, although not without its teething troubles like the lack of heating in much of the show area. All that is in the past and human and animal creature comforts are now on a par with any show in the country.

The amenities and attractive prize money are in large part due to committed sponsorship from big names like the Royal Bank of Scotland, Suzuki and Marks and Spencer. The latter funds the Scottish National Premier Meat Exhibition and the live/dead competitions for beef, lamb and pork organised by Scotbeef, the main M&S meat supplier in Scotland

Back home at Glenmanna in Dumfriesshire, longer-term thoughts are about the uncertain future for Scottish hill farmers.

"Its all very worrying. Things are definitely going against us. The sheep annual premium has been halved in two years, HLCA rates are frozen and the extra £50 a suckler cow we received last year has been withdrawn.

"The drop in income is fearful and remember you are talking about a sector of farming where the average net income is around £10,000. Then there is all the talk about modulation. If the subsidy capping is on the farm business, then many hill farmers will be forced out. If it has to come, it must be as a limit on payments to each partner in the business," says Mr Hamilton.

Two tenanted units

In his own case he is running two tenanted units as one business with himself and son, Hugh, at Glenmanna, and his other son, Andrew, on the upland farm of Marr, towards Sanquhar.

"We are all working partners, depending on our own efforts to make a living. We have two shepherds here and a stockman at Marr and there is no room for tightening the belt any further. We believe in looking after our stock and government should be aware that animal welfare is at risk if income levels are driven down so far that getting rid of employees is the only solution," says Mr Hamilton.

Glenmanna, with hill running up to 2000ft, stocks 2150 Blackface ewes plus hoggs and 50 suckler cows on the 5000 acres. Calves are sold as yearlings each autumn and this years prices were similar to last year in p/kg, but higher a head thanks to improved weight gain from a kinder year of weather.

Store Blackface wedder lambs were down £2 on the year, but 80 fattened on rented grass made 246p/kg deadweight and with the 16kg carcases grading U and R.

Blackface tups are sold at Newton Stewart and Lanar, and the Hamiltons received their best ever price of £15,000 at Newton Stewart this year when they topped the sale of shearlings.

The Glenmanna output is mainly store stock, but on the 154ha (380 acres) 11.3km (7 miles) away at Marr there is enough grass to finish all the lambs not sold for breeding or kept as replacements. The flock of 620 ewes is split evenly between Scotch Mules (young Andrew is chairman of the breed association) and Blackfaces which are crossed with Blueface Leicesters to produce the mules.

There is also a spring calving herd of 110 Angus and Limousin cross cows with calves sold as yearlings.

Andrew Hamilton with the final draft of the history of the Scottish National Fat Stock Club.

Blackface tups at Andrew Hamiltons farm at Glenmanna, Dumfriesshire.

Winter Fair timetable

The record number of entries has forced the winter fair organisers to begin judging next Tuesday evening, with the remainder of the classes and the championships to be decided on Wednesday. In previous years all the judging was done on one day.

The show timetable is as follows:

Tues, Nov 18 – admission free.

5.30pm – Judging of 16 classes for purebred beef cattle.

Wed, Nov 19 – admission £7 with concessions.

8.00am – Show opens.

8.30am – Judging of crossbred, butchers, pairs and young farmers cattle. Judging of sheep classes. Judging of Scottish National Premier Meat Exhibition classes (live).

9.00am – Judging of roots, grain and silage.

9.15am – Judging of Highland ponies.

10.00am – Judging of pigs.

11.45am – Judging of Shetland ponies.

12.00 – Young farmers stock-judging.

12.30pm – Judging of butchers cattle and cattle pairs.

1.15pm – Judging of Clydesdale horses.

2pm – Judging of cattle, sheep and pig championships.

4.30pm – Sale of pigs.

5pm – Sale of sheep.

5.30pm – Sale of cattle with champion and reserve at 7pm.