Peter Eccles, Saughland Farm, Midlothian
In just four years, Peter Eccles has transformed a traditional mixed farming operation from an indoor-lambing, high-input flock to an outdoor, performance-recorded, forage-focused system on intensive rotational grazing.
- 332ha owned, plus small rented acreage
- Mixed beef, sheep and arable unit
- Highly productive rotational grassland system
- Multiple environmental schemes
- Rental offices, storage units, let cottages and self-catering holiday accommodation
- Lothians Monitor Farm – learning and sharing knowledge
- Gross output up 38% over four years
Sheep numbers have jumped from 950 Scotch Mules to 2,100 Aberfield ewes and hoggs.
In place of the 70 bought-in Limousin-cross suckler cows, calving from May to December, Peter now runs a self-replacing closed herd of 90 spring-calving Aberdeen Angus and Hereford-cross cows, their size and progeny more suited to the land and the market.
A reduction in the arable acreage has made way for more grass, supplemented by fodder beet.
The beet delivers dry matter for just 3-4p/kg, compared with 25-30p/kg for bought-in concentrates. It also gives the ewes a change, which they appear to relish, and it rests the grazing.
Peter’s decisions have raised meat production from 520kg liveweight/ha to 668kg liveweight/ha. Profit is rising and represents a growing proportion of gross output.
It’s an impressive track record, but anyone who spends just a few hours with Peter will get the feeling there is a lot more to come.
Environment, conservation and biodiversity benefits
Wide-ranging agri-environment and conservation measures are important to the plan, achieving biodiversity improvements that Peter describes as addictive, in particular the clouds of butterflies lifting off a wild bird seed mix.
His apparently limitless energy drives not only a constant search for high-level technical performance, but also a desire to learn from and share with others.
Peter jointly hosts the Lothians Monitor Farm with his arable neighbour, Bill Gray. He also collaborates on numerous other fronts, including field swaps with Bill for overwintering and finishing steers.
This offers a biosecure environment for bought-in stock, with the arable business getting rotational and soil benefits from red clover and livestock organic matter.
Straw-for-muck agreements are part of the overall soil health management plan. A further collaboration saw a three-way profit-sharing agreement for away-wintering a west coast farmer’s youngstock.
Good health and wellbeing are at the core of creating a successful team and business at Saughland.
The staff are encouraged to take responsibility, with a young shepherd managing the flock day to day while Peter concentrates on the cattle and overall management.
An apprentice is also employed, while a self-employed tractor driver is shared between several farms.
Technology plays a huge part at Saughland, with comprehensive electronic identification management used alongside the Agriweb app to record frequent stock movements across 100-plus rotational grazing paddocks, as well as crop treatments and measurements.
Eager to adopt new approaches, Peter conducted a trial to target worming at those lambs most likely to benefit. This saved 40-60% on drench in the first year and has since been expanded, saving cash and reducing resistance.
His innovative streak and energy drive him to seek solutions beyond current practice.
The most recent example is his idea for an outdoor-lambing mothering trial to digitally record contact between ewes and lambs, to monitor performance and aid selection.
He has secured collaboration with Herriott-Watt University, Moredun Research Institute, and independent consultant 5Agri for this.
Peter enthusiastically embraces opportunities to present farming to the wider public as a source of carefully produced, nutritious food and as a potential career.
He offers work experience opportunities and hosts school visits, as well as going into classrooms.
- Attention to detail in recording and measuring performance
- Dynamic approach to changing focus of business and enhancing productivity
- Integration of intensive rotational system with environmental initiatives
- Ready adoption of technology
- Multiple collaborations
- Willingness to learn from and share with others – benchmarking and group discussion
- Development and motivation of staff
A word from our independent judge
“Peter keeps a constant focus on measuring and enhancing productivity, while his collaborative approach benefits many. An innovator who promotes farming to the public and as a career, his enthusiasm for his job and ambition for the farm he manages should be bottled.”
Charles Matts, Northamptonshire farmer
Other finalists were:
- James Beamish
Holkham Farming Company, Walsingham, Norfolk
- Peter Cartwright
Revesby Estate, Boston, Lincolnshire
The Farmers Weekly 2020 Farm Manager of the Year is sponsored by Safety Revolution
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