Arable Farmer of The Year Finalist – Mike Forbes

Mike Forbes – Omachie Farm, Kingennie, Angus

At first sight it seems Mike Forbes might have little time for the arable side of his highly diversified business based just outside Dundee.

But his obvious passion for every enterprise he runs from Omachie Farm, Kingennie shows up in his crops and the well integrated system he has established to get the best from them.

Since Mr Forbes took over from his father in 1985, when 20ha of potatoes and 6ha of outdoor strawberries were the main money-spinners, the family-run operation, Forbes of Kingennie, has expanded to about 485ha.

Today’s mainstream crops are potatoes, broad beans, and cereals. But strawberries, mostly under polytunnels, now have a much higher profile. He has also invested heavily in an indoor pig unit, and tourism is increasingly adding to the financial bottom line through a country resort including fishing lakes, a golf course and holiday chalets.

The moves have allowed him to profit and move ahead rather than relying on subsidies.

“I’m not sure if the farming fraternity would want to follow the route I’ve taken.”

Good marketing is critical to the survival of any business, he stresses.

Farm Facts
  • 485ha mixed operation
  • Fertile but stony, undulating land
  • Annual rainfall 610mm (24in)
  • Cropping: Wheat, barley, potatoes, broad beans, strawberries

“I go to great lengths to secure market contracts before spending anything on inputs. Gone are the days of chucking it in the ground in the expectation of having many outlets clamouring for your produce.”

A recent change from growing ware potatoes on a “fair but only fair” cost-plus contract for Asda to a less risky arrangement, in which everything is contracted out via Taypack in return for guaranteed income, reflects his readiness to adjust to the changing business environment.

National consumption is falling 5% annually and supermarkets can easily import to control the market, he points out.

His seed potatoes are all on contract to Higgins, and most of the cereals are for seed.

The beans go to East Coast Viners, run by Mr Forbes’ father and two brothers, which recently bought its own freezing and packing factory.

The medium loam is highly fertile though not free-draining enough for outdoor pigs and annual rainfall is only 610mm (24in). So as part of his long term vision for the farm Mr Forbes 10 years ago invested in an underground irrigation system to all fields.

“It allows us to reach the skin finish so desperately required by packers and supermarkets alike without having to lay miles of over-ground aluminium pipes.”

Pig slurry up to NVZ limits is injected to save on fertiliser costs, the surplus going free of charge to local farmers using the farm’s dribble-bar equipped tanker to avoid complaints about smell.

Last year’s dry weather, which required 11 irrigation passes through the potatoes, clearly suited the farm’s wheats.

“We had our best yields ever – everything was over 4t/acre. Our average is 3.8.”

Although employing managers for each business sector, including the arable, Mr Forbes stays closely involved with all practical aspects, crop husbandry being determined through discussions with Scottish Agronomy’s Eric Anderson.

Groundkeeper potatoes are particularly troublesome which is why spring barley rather than wheat is the following crop, he explains.

“At the end of the day, I am an arable farmer. I do all the soil analyses myself. We have horrendous manganese deficiency.”

He is fully prepared to flex when it comes to machinery use, all spraying having been done through a CSC contract for the past three years.

“The main driver was cost,” he explains. “It’s very low.”

His environment care is reflected in 12m field margins beside all watercourses. “We have the highest grey partridge population in Angus which SEPA says is because of the saw-toothed beetles in them.”


Robert Law  Phillip Wynn  Andrew Blake

Last year’s winner, Robert Law Philip Wynn, Wynn Business Partnerships and Andrew Blake, Farmers Weekly’s senior arable reporter.

What the judges liked
  • Mike is a real entrepreneur, substantially diversifying his highly successful farming business over recent years
  • Commitment, energy, passion for attention to detail, and his ability to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in are clearly evident
  • An impressive understanding of costs, which has led to some radical operational changes
  • Everything produced on the farm has a buyer before any inputs are bought or field operations started
  • His attitude to managing staff, including large numbers of casual employees, is especially refreshing

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