Angus farmers featured in 300 Farmers of Scotland

Fruits of his labour...Lochy Porter of Angus Soft Fruits has ensured the continued success of this proud family business.
Fruits of his labour...Lochy Porter of Angus Soft Fruits has ensured the continued success of this proud family business.

With 16,000 farmers the length and breadth of Scotland, there’s a rich seam of talent in our country.

And it’s that seam Eilidh MacPherson tapped into to create her latest book, 300 Farmers of Scotland.

Family affair...generations of the Mather family have made a huge success of Shandford Farm, near Brechin.

Family affair...generations of the Mather family have made a huge success of Shandford Farm, near Brechin.

The editor of a bi-monthly magazine focusing on the farming industry, Eilidh used her contacts to get started on the book.

She personally knew around 80 farmers who are featured and word of mouth helped her discover even more who had stories to tell.

The compilation provides a glimpse of the innovation used by today’s farmers to ensure they not only survive but thrive.

Eilidh said: “I found it really interesting finding out what the farmers are doing differently these days – it was very enjoyable.

Hill farming...is in the blood for Katie Fairlie, who has been working in the Angus Glens for years.

Hill farming...is in the blood for Katie Fairlie, who has been working in the Angus Glens for years.

“The truth is I’ve only just scratched the surface as there are around 16,000 farmers in Scotland.

“However, I’ve already started on the second instalment and I’m hoping that will be ready in time for Christmas this year.”

300 Farmers of Scotland was released in December.

And a number of farms in Angus feature within its 280 glossy pages.

Covering 218,200 hectares and a farmland area of 191,643 hectares, Angus boasts 582 farms of 50 hectares or more.

There are 1209 farms and holdings, including six dairy, 36 specialist sheep, 18 specialist beef, 111 cereal, 17 specialist poultry, 76 lowland beef and sheep, 212 general cropping and 201 mixed.

Understandably, therefore, it was no mean feat for Eilidh to select the pick of the crop for her book.

Among those featured in this first instalment are Lochy Porter from East Seaton, Arbroath, the Mather family of Shandford Fern, Brechin and Katie Fairlie of Kilburn and Tarabuckle, Glen Clova.

The good news for Lochy Porter is that there has been a revolution in the soft fruit industry in recent years.

Gone are the days when the main produce went into large plastic barrels before being made into jam.

Instead, Scottish strawberries and raspberries are heading straight for the supermarket shelves – and demand is increasing year on year.

Lochy, who is managing director of Angus Soft Fruits, told the book’s author: “We have big advantages in this northern part of the country.

“We do not have the searing heat that growers in the south of England face.

“Soft fruit needs sunshine but it does not do well when there is stifling heat. We also have added daylight hours and that helps the slower ripening process.”

Angus Soft Fruits was set up 21 years ago and now has an annual turnover of £65 million, marketing produce from 23 growers in Angus, Perth and Fife.

It supplies most of the main UK supermarkets and, at the peak of the season, some 200,000 punnets of fruit come off the lines of its eight packing stations daily.

Another family success story in Angus is that of the Mather family, of Shandford Fern, Brechin.

Many hands make light work would be a good motto for them as Graeme Snr works with no less than six other members of the Mather clan. And their hard graft sees Shandford consistently hit supermarket specifications for cattle carcasses on the hook.

The family like to keep as much work in-house as possible, tackling machinery repairs themselves.

All silage work and harvesting is also carried out by the family, as is the sheep shearing. And a clean grazing system is practiced by the Mathers – cattle one year, sheep the next.

“We used to have a problem with coccidiosis,” admitted Graeme Snr, “but not now. It makes lambs a lot cleaner.”

Another family concern is the 3500 acres at Kilburn and Tarabuckle in Glen Clova, run by Katie Fairlie for the past 25 years.

The hill properties carry 1000 Blackface ewes and 100 cows and followers.

Katie’s husband David and son Beau run the arable, property and renewable enterprises down country at West Lownie and Cotton of Lownie near Arbroath.

While farming is in their blood, they are not averse to diversifying either.

In 2015, the Fairlies converted a run down farm steading and farm house at Tarabuckle into holiday accommodation and it has been booked out pretty 
much ever since.

Katie said: “My father is my inspiration.

“My favourite saying of his is: Look forward, go forward – you only get a sore neck looking backwards!”

Eilidh speaks from experience

Eilidh MacPherson combines hill sheep farming at Marbrack – between Ayr and Castle Douglas – with her husband Richard Nixon.

Together they farm 2500 acres carrying 1200 Blackface sheep.

Eilidh is also editor of a now bi-monthly publication, Farming Country magazine, which was known as farmingscotland.com when it was free.

Her last book From Thistle to Fern, which was published a decade ago, featured Scots who had emigrated to New Zealand and set up the High Country Sheep Stations.

Eilidh is a hill sheep and beef farmers’ daughter from the Isle of Skye and headed off overseas once she graduated from Edinburgh in agriculture.

She spent six seasons as a professional sheep shearer, employing Kiwis on Skye, then headed to the Antipodes for the winter.

She managed a lamb group, worked for Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb and then as an independent livestock buyer.

While in New Zealand, Eilidh wrote full time for the New Zealand Farmer for a couple of years – covering Southland and South Otago.

She also freelanced for a number of other titles including High Country Herald, Shearing Magazine, Southland Times and the Otago Southland Farmer.

Farmingscotland.com magazine was launched in September 2003, on her return from overseas – a free monthly title.

It changed its name to Farming Country in 2012 so it could be sold in newsagents and shops across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland.

300 Farmers of Scotland is available now from Harbro in Forfar, priced £25. Follow Eilidh on Facebook at farmingscotland.com or Twitter @farmingscotland.