The Beckett Scholars met in the far south west of Scotland on the first weekend of July. Hosts were 2015 Beckett Scholar Robert Fleming and his wife Claire. Robert, a beef farmer whose Nuffield study and interest had been centred on breeding and genetics, was now entirely focused on grass production/utilisation/management and the amount of beef he could produce off each hectare of his land. He told us the coastal area round Wigtownshire, where he farms, was the best grassproducing region in the UK, with growth for 10+ months of the year courtesy of the Gulf Stream drift. Both grass and cattle were constantly measured and monitored for results and profits, with strict targets set in conjunction with an agronomist. The business was AgriScot ‘Scotch Beef Farm of the Year’ in 2017. The area he farms in is included in the proposed Galloway National Park and, if he can get planning permission, Robert hopes to build some lodges to let. With the spectacular views across the sea to the Isle of Man and beyond, demand would be assured.
Next visit was to organic farmer Alan (Ted) Brown, he makes and markets cheese from both sheep and cows. The entrepreneurial owner told us he had himself applied for a Nuffield Scholarship some years back, but had been turned down. Clearly this had been Nuffield’s loss.
A balanced picture of farming in Wigtownshire clearly needed to include a dairy farm and we visited Colin Ferguson, Next Generation Chairman of the NFU, Scotland. He explained to the Group how a farm he has had for less than 2 years has been turned around to start on the route to becoming a modern progressive dairy unit.
Our final hosts for the afternoon, Crafty Distillery, told us in detail how their immaculate 2-year old gin distillery had been built and operated. Their tour and talk covered the successful journey their ‘Hills and Harbour’ gin has taken - and we had the opportunity to sample the product.
On the Sunday, following a spirited AGM, we embarked on our final visit. A short drive south took us to Mull of Galloway farm and hosts Harvey and Billy Sloan. We were left gasping at the finest range of beef farm buildings many of us had ever seen. They had all been designed and physically built by the farmer and his (allegedly) retired father. They had extended their talents into restaurant building when they finally obtained planning permission to erect a café and gift shop at the site of the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse. The foundations had to be blasted out of solid rock but the fabric of the building itself was of similar construction to that used for their huge cattle sheds. We partook of our final meal there, and the view over the low, gently rolling, wide open landscape, with the Irish Sea on one side and Luce Bay the other of Scotlands most southerly tip and the spacious fields demarcated by stone walls and bathed that day in sunshine, is one we will all take back to our own respective homes.