Kirsten Brewster, SNH Agriculture Officer, visited Inch Farm and met with farmer Andrew to discuss his Agri-Environment Climate Scheme. The farm, in Fife’s East Neuk, has views across to both the Isle of May and Bass Rock. On the day of Kirsten’s visit, both are surrounded by a mass of azure blue, glinting in the sunlight.
Andrew took on the running of the farm at just 22. Like many would expect, he got his head down and carried on in the way it had been worked previously. But high input and high output didn’t result in increasing returns, and in 2014 potato prices dipped to £10 per tonne. The boxes were becoming of greater value than the food they contained! It was then that Andrew felt he had to make changes; he switched to contract farming, relinquishing the need for big machinery and staff. It is a sorry state of affairs that Andrew understands all too well from his studies towards a Masters in Food Security.
Outside the farm office, birds flourish in the hedgerows and he points out to me the substantial areas which he has devoted to nature conservation. Surely a farm looking to maximise efficiency wouldn’t set aside huge swathes from production? Ever the pragmatist, Andrew explains that he can avoid some of the risk related to volatile vegetable prices and achieve a higher level of income per acre than possible for cereal crops.
The idea was prompted by a visit from an RSPB conservation advisor looking primarily to bolster corn bunting numbers. Since then, the success of the Farmland Bird Lifeline project has been well documented, but for Andrew it was the assistance of RSPB officer Yvonne Stephen that really got the ball rolling. As he talks me through the various maps and plans for the five-year scheme, I can see the need to be organised over the coming years is something that Andrew welcomes.
Many have relayed that “you can’t be green if you’re in the red” but here Andrew demonstrates that being “Green” may help with staying out of the red. Economic considerations are of course vital, but Andrew also wanted to make his patch more environmentally sustainable with his young daughter in mind and through the success of his environmental work he feels that he is achieving this goal; corn bunting numbers have increased threefold on the farm in just two years. Yellowhammer, reed bunting and skylark have all benefitted from measures such as wild bird seed plots, overwinter stubbles and conservation headlands.
Looking to the future, Andrew hopes that environmental work will continue to be supported and that farmers will see that this is vital work they should be undertaking. After all farming is dependent on a healthy environment.
Andrew kindly offers me a look around the farm. Seeing 25% area of a farm in a scheme is really quite something and I can only imagine the vast abundance of wildlife that this will support. In the field closest to the main road, we briefly catch sight of a corn bunting. We finish back with his pride and joy: two London route master buses which are shortly to be advertised for use at weddings and events. As with so many young farmers, it seems there is a need to be creative and look at all kinds of options – including ones that help wee yellow birds!
Follow Andrew on Facebook @InchFarmFife
Farmers who are interested in being part of this round of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme have until 30 April to apply. For more info, see the Rural Payments website.