Farmers Weekly Awards 2021: Diversification Farmer of the Year

Alison and Fergus Younger, Old Leckie Farm, Gargunnock, Stirling

A determination to make the farm self-sufficient and remove the dependence on subsidy payments has developed a stable business for Alison and Fergus Younger, that continues to grow year-on-year.

The 120ha beef and sheep holding, which has been owned by Fergus’ family for four generations, underwent a full business evaluation when the Youngers took over, and funding was secured to convert an old steading building into a self-catering unit.

This decision would not only provide an income stream for the farm for years to come, but would repay the loan that was needed to match the funding and allow other ventures to be explored.

Farm facts

  • Fourth-generation family farm
  • 120ha
  • 1,300 laying hens
  • 500 Texel / Lleyn sheep
  • 60 Limousin cattle

Adding value

One of these was a drive to finish more beef, lamb and pork themselves and sell direct to individuals and wholesalers to increase profit margins. Highland cattle were also added to the offering.

Initially, a tie-up with a local farm shop was considered the best route to market for their meat, along with eggs from the newly acquired 350 hens.

However, the farm shop couldn’t maintain the agreed price and the Youngers set about marketing their produce themselves.

As access to the farm was poor and the couple had limited staffing resources – the traditional farm shop model wouldn’t have worked – a home delivery service to three local villages was trialled to shift the produce from the layers.

The system is as low-maintenance as possible to maintain a decent margin, with a monthly subscription service and invoicing to keep paperwork to a minimum.

Hen numbers are now up to 1,300, with 56% of the eggs sold into wholesale such as local shops, and 44% direct to consumers.

Against audience

As demand for the eggs grew, other produce such as potatoes and mixed leaf salad bags were added, and the couple have encouraged customers to sign up on the same subscription basis as the eggs.

The decision to start finishing their own cattle, lamb and pork meant full control of the chain from rearing to delivery.

The Covid-19 pandemic grew customer numbers by 50% and doubled turnover on meat sales, while extra hens were added to keep up with orders.

A move to the Shopify ordering platform has allowed Alison and Fergus to track orders, monitor new product sales and note returning customers – which will contribute to a more targeted approach for marketing.

They also reach a wider audience through the online shop – meat boxes have been shipped as far as Devon.

Stock control can be especially challenging when products become popular, and customers are kept up to date via weekly newsletters and social media posts.

Linking back

The story of provenance and positive storytelling are key messages portrayed by Old Leckie.

There is very little waste – all broken eggs can be composted or fed to the pigs and hen bedding is mixed with farmyard manure to use as fertilizer, so reducing bought-in bags.

Eggs that don’t quite make the grade are given to local food banks.

Winning ways

  • Core values ​​and links to the farm retained and promoted
  • Financially sound business model that could be replicated
  • Subscription model helps cash flow security with multiple customers
  • Using setbacks as a positive to drive business forward with a clear strategy
  • Excellent customer engagement with weekly updates

A word from our independent judge

“The enthusiasm and knowledge Alison and Fergus have for their business has created an astute model focused on production costs and maintaining a healthy profit margin. Careful planning and budgeting has seen an innovative business flourish and set a blueprint for others to follow. ”
Oliver McEntyre, national agricultural strategy director at Barclays

Other finalists were

  • Edward Burman, Hemp Whole Foods, Kingstanding Farm, Warwickshire
  • James Alexander, Balado Airfield, Lincot, Kinross

Read about the finalists.

The Farmers Weekly 2021 Diversification Farmer of the Year Award is sponsored by A-Plan Insurance

Farmers Weekly’s farming awards celebrates the very best of British agriculture by recognising hard-working and innovative farmers across the UK.

Find out more about the Awards, the categories and sponsorship opportunities on our Awards website.

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