Farming: Monitor farms a win-win success

Although there was an initial reticence within the farming community to the concept of monitor farms, where the owners open up their books and explain their farm procedures to neighbours, an independent review has suggested those taking part have improved their decision-making abilities.

The report, commissioned by Scottish Enterprise, also highlights the fact the programme has had an impact on the personal development of members of the monitor farm community groups, noting that "this sort of learning, gained by witnessing at first-hand the decisions made on the monitor farm, is most powerful because it is open to debate and challenge by the community".

The monitor farm programme, led by Quality Meat Scotland, was established in Scotland in 2003 and involves the selection of farms, typical of their area, which are supported by community groups of local farmers and facilitators. The farms host up to six community group meetings each year with the aim of improving efficiency and profitability. The new research shows that 70 per cent of monitor farmers progressed to undertake off-farm leadership positions, with the majority of these individuals attributing their new roles to their experience as a monitor farmer.

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Among the skills farmers developed or enhanced while being involved in the programme were communication skills, analytical skills and experience in responding to challenges. Self-confidence, time management and a willingness to accept and respond to challenge from their peers were also improved.

There was also evidence that greater openness is promoted among the community group farmers, with enhanced willingness to share information and experiences and to offer advice and support to each other.

While not all monitor farmers reported improvements to profitability as a result of their involvement in the programme, they all reported introducing changes including some which saved on labour input.

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said the payback for Scottish agriculture was is estimated to be some 6.50 for every 1 spent on the initiative.

"We are aware of the business benefits which the monitor farm programme is delivering for the monitor farmers involved, the community groups and the wider industry through the lessons being learned," he said. "This is a win-win situation for the monitor farm and the visiting farmers who can see improvements which they can then apply to their own businesses.

"The programme is clearly giving individuals the skills and confidence needed to become an industry leader."