Andrew Arbuckle: Revolving bunnets are part and parcel of farming life

I THINK it was Brian Pack who observed, when following a car heading towards the Highland Show, that all he saw was a number of "revolving bunnets;" this description classically describes how, whenever farmers travel around, they observe what is going on in the fields. In another industry it might well be called low-level industrial espionage.

Another version of the same need to see what is happening in the fields belongs to Aberdeenshire raconteur Charlie Allan, who tells the tale of the old farmer being apprehended for driving erratically from one side of the road to the other and then back again. His explanation, which is totally understandable in a farming context, was: "Well officer, I hae cattle in fields on both sides of the road."

This week, there will be a number of car loads complete with revolving heads and meandering driving skills on show as they head to Scotland's beef event to be held at the Greens of Corskie on the Morayshire coast.

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The holding of a major event on a farm once again proves that farming is the most open industry, allowing as it does potential commercial opponents (other farmers) on to the farm to see how the operation works. In modern parlance, this is knowledge transfer.

Having been to Corskie myself last month, I know that Jimmy and Nan Green, along with son Iain, have some business quite apart from their impressive beef enterprise, built on their Simmental pedigree herd.

Visiting Corskie on its own is well worth the effort quite apart from the 150 trade stands, the seminars, the stock judging and just the opportunity to speak to fellow farmers from other parts of the country.

So well done to the National Beef Association Scottish region for putting all this together, although most people might also wish they could link up with the other beef industry lobbying organisation, the Scottish Beef Cattle Association.

Although both are coy on the subject, I do not think the combined membership of the two bodies actually gets into four figures. That alone seems a good reason to pull together rather than pull apart.

I believe informal off-the-record talks are taking place but it seems to come down to a few personalities; it was ever thus.

Back on the main theme of the openness of the farming industry in allowing others to discuss aspects of business, I have been surprised how the Monitor farm concept has taken off in Scotland.

It may be a generation issue but many of the older farmers would have been content and even silently pleased to know that cars were slowly going past their premises to see what was going on but equally they would have held tightly to their chest any detailed information on crops or livestock.

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Not so with the Monitor farm process where detailed costings and husbandry issues are openly discussed in the farm yard. The healthy attitude seems to be "here is the information but I will do it better than you".

However, there still seems to be one sector of the farming industry that seems loath to use business information that is now available. I refer to sheep farmers.

Two weeks ago, I attended a Quality Meat Scotland meeting where figures were given that showed profitability of a flock could be raised by around 11 per ewe through using tups with high performance figures.

All those present were convinced that this was putting extra cash into their pockets with one producer quoting Burns saying "facts are chiels that winna ding".

No-one spoke against the findings. If the meeting had not been held in a cold and draughty silage pit, it might even had the heated air of a revivalist meeting, with each producer either adding support to the cause or berating the more traditional shepherds in words that even now a fortnight later leave deep marks in my notebook. In order to bring some balance into the event, the chairman asked those sitting on the press bench what they thought.

Now this is difficult as I and my colleagues are there to report the happenings of any event and not take one side or the other. I know that one member of the press bench whoops and applauds as excitedly as a performing seal about to be thrown a fish but in the main we sit quietly and write.

Eventually one colleague offered the view that he would report the financial benefits and the positive mood of the meeting but he knew that he would be verbally abused for doing so when he went to the local show at the weekend; those of the show ring persuasion having other priorities in their breeding programmes.

Personally I am sure the industry will move towards using more data on how more saleable meat can be sold. But I also hope the industry manages to avoid some of the extremism in physical characteristics that can be seen in other species of farm animals when performance figures are used exclusively.