1 March 2002

Work pressure brings an end to assurance role

Tirinie farmer Ian Duncan

Millar has decided to stand

down after 12 years at the

forefront of the farm assurance

movement in Scotland.

Allan Wright reports

INCREASING pressure on farm margins was one of the main reasons behind Ian Duncan Millars decision to step down from Quality Meat Scotland.

A founder member of what was then Farm Assured Scotch Lamb, Mr Duncan Millar has seen it develop into the Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association and then Quality Meat Scotland, as the movement is called today, on which he served as chairman of the farm assurance committee. "I am pleased to have been part of something that has improved the image and the marketing strength of our meat. There is a real demand and a premium for our Specially Selected brand of beef and lamb. Aiming at the top end of the market must continue to be the way forward for a country like ours with its high production costs.

"My enthusiasm for farm assurance, as part of the brand, is undiminished. But the board and other meetings took up a lot of time. There was a modest honorarium, but not enough to compensate for a mistake or a missed opportunity back on the farm. I feel I must spend more time man-aging my own business rather than constantly playing weekend catch-up with practical and office work."

There is one piece of unfinished business – resolving the issue of what qualifies as Scotch beef. Currently, store cattle need to reside in Scotland for no more than a 90-day finishing period to qualify and that has attracted a lot of criticism.

"I think it has to be 180 days and I do not share the same level of concern as the meat trade that supply would be seriously diminished and the premium threatened. Going to six months would still permit the traditional trade in suckled calves from the north of England.

"We need the change to stop the constant sniping about Scotch and Scottish and the issue is on the agenda of Quality Meat Scotland."

As far as Tirinie beef production is concerned, the Scottish Agricultural College recommendation to switch from silage and barley to an intensive ad-lib barley and soya ration has been implemented and should improve margins. Extra supplies of home-grown barley that failed to meet seed standards prompted the move.

At Wester Tullich, the foundations of a beef breeding herd (five maiden heifers) are so far coping without supplementary roughage. "It is our version of extended grazing and it is working."

Mr Duncan Millar says he needs more time at home to avoid mistakes but his reading of the lamb market this season could not have been better. Tirinie crossbred lambs were put on a maintenance-only ration in September when prices collapsed to £26. In January, 147 sold at £42.30 apiece and in February the price rose to £44 for 47. The numbers included 50 lambs that were bought in at £23. The price trend is a near repeat of last year.

Wester Tullich has seen Blackface lamb returns almost identical to last year, averaging £29.26, while the high hill ones from Auchnafree – fully organic and being kept to slightly heavier weights than last year – are up by £3 or 17%, with 900 averaging £20.20. He has 350 still to sell and hopes for Easter export demand from Spain and Portugal.

Organic farming lessons are being learned, some of them the hard way. Some of the Auchnafree lambs did well on rented organic clover but only as long as energy levels were maintained. A move to join other lambs on a rented field of organic rape was a failure when the stalks turned to wood. The lambs are now back in sheds at Auchnafree and thriving on organic barley at £165/t.

Another lesson, with an earlier batch of Auchnafree lambs, was that a diet of organic lucerne cobs (£220/t) plus oats (£150/t) did not have enough energy for a finishing ration. "These are the things you learn, and you learn them faster if you are on hand."

The high price of organic feeds is not prompting a switch in Tirinie grain crops. "It is light land and I fear that yields under an organic regime would be little better than 25cwt/acre. But the aim is to make maximum use of the amounts of non-organic feed (10% annually and 25% of daily dry matter intake) allowed under organic farming rules." &#42

Ian Duncan Millar plans to spend more time back on the farm.

&#8226 Tirinie, a 129ha (318-acre) mixed arable and stock farm in north-west Perthshire, farmed by Ian Duncan Millar. It has been in the family for 40 years.

&#8226 The land is a mix of sandy loam over gravel near the rivers Tay and Lyon, and medium loam away from rivers.

&#8226 Main arable crop is spring barley for malting and seed contracts. Turnips are grown for wintering sheep.

&#8226 Sheep flock of 300 Mule and Texel cross ewes. Lambs are finished and sold through a local lamb marketing group.

&#8226 Suckled calves bought privately from one farm. Males finished intensively, best heifer calves kept for breeding and sold with calves at foot.

&#8226 Staff of one, for tractor work.