Opinion: What has been the greatest innovation in your farming lifetime?

A search has been going on at our Airyolland Farm to identify the greatest innovation that has appeared during our lifetime. 

Our interest in all things innovative was spawned after we made a grant application to our local Leader fund.

In one part of the form we were asked to describe what was innovative about our proposed diversification project.

To be perfectly honest, we found that part very difficult. We finally decided this was probably because our idea wasn’t really innovative at all.

See also: FW’s 2017 best ‘simple’ farm inventions

The realisation that we weren’t as clever as we thought we were was crushing.

However, in the days that followed we started to look around the farm and draw up a list of nominations to decide what have been the greatest “Innovations Developed or Invented in Our Time” – or “IDIOTs” for short.

Neale McQuistinNeale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland.

So, I’m pleased to announce that the inaugural IDIOTs awards were presented this year at a glittering ceremony in our pet-lamb shed.  

Needless to say, the event lived up to the expectations of similar events, like the Oscars. Mrs McQ arrived (late) and swanned into the shed wearing an off-the-shoulder Queen’s Greatest Hits T-shirt, beautifully customised with meconium tide marks. 

Alfie, our pensioner Collie, made a spectacular entrance as he swaggered in with a piece of afterbirth dangling from the wicks of his mouth.

And I arrived just as the automatic lamb feeder’s milk-level sensor failed, causing the damned machine to pump a whole bag of milk powder out onto the floor, again.

But, despite its occasional failings, an automatic lamb feeder is a great innovation that has come into common use in our lifetime.

The judging panel therefore thought this machine should be elevated to the Airyolland IDIOTs Hall of Fame.

There, it will join automatic dosing guns and syringes, along with quad bikes as innovations that have changed our lives for the better.

In the “Innovations that are complete disasters” category, the judges considered the Scottish government’s Beef Efficiency Scheme to be an easy winner. It will join Defra’s National Scrapie Plan in the IDIOTs Hall of Shame.

This year’s winner in the “Innovations that could go either way” category was Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), and the winner in the “Innovations that can only go one way” category was… Brexit.

The judges felt that these two categories and winners were completely interchangeable.

“Best newcomer” was the Scottish Rural College’s mobile CT scanning unit. The judges thought that, if they keep it simple and stick to the basics, CT scanning will soon be in the Hall of Fame.

However, it could slip into the “Could go either way” category next year if it is used to dream up yet more EBVs.

Finally, this year’s overall winner, in the opinion of the judges, is outstanding. This innovation has been around for 50 years but, despite that, there is nothing else to better it.   

It has no detrimental effect on human or animal health. It causes no damage to the environment, the ozone layer or the universe.

It has improved animal welfare, increased food production, raised efficiency and saved energy. I could go on. 

The winner is: ultrasound pregnancy scanning. The people who came up with that idea were certainly not idiots. And, like all great innovations, it was as simple as one, two, three.

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