Farmers Weekly Awards 2020: Farmer of the Year

Peter Eccles, Saughland Farm, Pathhead, Midlothian 

Enthusiasm, energy and a clear vision, combined with a search for top-notch productivity and technical improvement, make Peter Eccles a remarkable farmer.

He has some impressive results to back this up, having made wholesale changes to the system and breeds at Saughland Farm, taking it from a traditional indoor lambed flock and continental cross cows to outdoor lambing and cross-bred native cows.

The stock is run on a closely monitored intensive paddock rotational grazing system which now produces 668kg liveweight/ha – a 30% increase achieved in four years as Peter’s changes have taken effect.

Five things that make Peter Eccles the 2020 Farmer of The Year

  1. Drive for technical and productivity improvements has achieved great results in just a few years
  2. Runs many collaborations for mutual benefit
  3. Has integrated overhaul of production system and breeds with conservation and biodiversity objectives
  4. Promotes agriculture as a career, gives young staff opportunity and responsibility
  5. Leading-edge thinking – looks beyond what technology is currently available

While much has changed at Saughland under his management, there has been no change for change’s sake.

Technical innovations have been important but have been closely appraised and are paying their way, including investment in a sheep handling system and targeted selective lamb worming.

The permanent pasture acreage has been cut to allow more grass leys, with the kale, swedes, herb swards and fodder beet acreages rising to cut feed costs and reduce reliance on bought-in feed.

The productivity gains have been achieved alongside biodiversity and conservation improvements across the farm.

These include a collaborative Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, 5,000m of hedgerows, overwintered brassicas for farmland birds, managing species-rich grassland, and wetland creation.

It’s not question of thinking big but of thinking smart and being open to using resources and collaborating in a wide variety of ways.

These include arable operations, straw-for-muck agreements, sheep grazing, cattle outwintering, cattle and lamb finishing, labour and machinery sharing, as well as feed trials with SRUC.

On one front, the joint approach brings benefits for the Saughland business and its arable neighbour in terms of soil health, machinery costs, store overwintering returns and stock biosecurity.

Collaboration on a wider scale saw Peter and neighbour Bill Gray jointly host the very successful Lothians Monitor Farm project, while Peter also belongs to a benchmarking grazing group of farms with a similar paddock approach.

An approachable and dependable leader, his generous attitude means farming has much to gain from Peter’s willingness to share and learn.

A technical mothering project to assess contact between ewes and lambs is on the horizon, instigated by Peter and run in co-operation with three leading organisations.

He also embraces every opportunity to promote farming, food production, conservation and the countryside.

These includes school visits and talks, videos, offering work experience opportunities, public-facing virtual farm tours during lockdown lambing and calving, and QMS and ADHB videos. Peter also has a very strong commitment to raise the importance of mental wellbeing.

A word from our sponsor

AgrovistaPeter’s dynamic approach and the ready adoption of technology all play a part in keeping it current and innovative. His work raising awareness of mental health and wellbeing further enhances his achievement as Farmer of the Year 2020. Huge congratulations from all at Agrovista.

Chris Clayton, managing director

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