In the black, but only just

26 February 1999

In the black, but only just

How have Scottish farmers

coped with the crisis of the

past 12 months? We have

returned to three producers

we visited at this time last

year to find out what

changes they have made and

whether they have any more

confidence about the future

HIGH in the whisky country of Glenlivet in Banffshire, Alastair Nairn had limited opportunity to change or diversify from his 1000 ewes and 100 suckler cows. But he is now finishing everything off Clashnoir Farm to get the maximum return.

The extra acres needed are being rented and that has also allowed 120 cast ewes to be retained for another year instead of selling them at rock bottom prices. "The business is still in profit, but only just, and it could be down to break even by the end of my financial year in July."

A second cottage on the 477ha (1180 acre) unit has been rented out leaving son Stuart (23) at home to save costs.

The first full year of finishing the cattle has improved margins, and given satisfaction in being away from the vagaries of the suckled calf markets.

Mr Nairn has also changed his deadweight market from McIntosh Donald to Scotch Premier. "The commercial reason was that Scotch Premier takes cattle with a higher degree of finish. They are happy with 4H animals and it means we are selling more kilograms at a premium price.

"It is also a co-operative which is important to me. I have nothing against McIntosh Donald but I did not want to become involved in a Tesco producer club and tied to their specifications."

Therein lies the other compelling interest, winning a better share of the end price for farmers. A year ago, Mr Nairn and his friend Jim Innes were lobbying restaurants and persuading diners to insist on Scottish meat.

This action has moved on and, with five other like-minded farmers from the area, Mr Nairn has founded a new organisation called SLIM (Scottish Livestock Initiative in Marketing). It is dedicated to giving farmers greater control over their end-price and the preferred vehicle is the auction marts.

"We want the marts to become the major force in livestock selling. We want transparency in the market place and we want the marts to offer their conventional service, electronic selling, and procurement for delivery to abattoirs," he says. Funding is now being for a feasibility study.

Back on his own farm, Mr Nairn has been practising what he preaches on lamb marketing. "We are now selling everything through the auction mart at Huntly. I fought to have the mart retained and I am happy to give it my support."

But I am also happy from a commercial point of view because the last lambs I sold were 41kg Blackfaces. They made £33.80 through the ring on a day when top grade, 19kg Blackfaces were making £31.35 deadweight."

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