Case Study: Andrew Prentice
1st October 2014
This article, featuring Andrew Prentice, first appeared in the October/November edition of Sheep Farmer magazine. Andrew (32), who is an NSA Next Generation Ambassador, moved to the Isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland a year ago to establish a flock of Scottish Blackface ewes with his wife and young family.
Reflecting on the recent referendum in Scotland and the massive choice our nation made, it reminds me that we are coming up for a year from when myself and my family took an important decision of our own.
We moved from a small farm in Aberdeenshire to our current larger unit on the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland. It was a big decision for all, to leave family and friends behind. More so for our 13-year-old son who now stays at a hostel Monday to Friday, as it takes two ferries and a 45-minute bus trip to get to Oban where the high school is.
We had applied for several tenancies before this, ranging from the Highlands of Scotland to Carlisle. We knew if we wanted a larger farm we were going to have to move out of our local area – and almost a year on I feel we should have done it sooner. Although more remote than the north east of Scotland, there is far more community spirt here. Everyone is keen to make sure we make a good go of it and we have made many new friends who share the same values as ourselves.
The weather is also surprisingly good! It is often warm and calm, with the exception of winter when it can be pretty windy. We have lots of corncrakes on Iona (a migratory bird that looks like a moorhen but lives on dry land) and get paid to manage hay ground in such a manner that it allows them to rear their young.
Currently we have around 200 head of South Type Scottish Blackface sheep. Some of these will be sold as gimmers for cash flow reasons, as we are currently unsupported by the existing Scottish Government CAP. I also do mechanical repairs/servicing and some fencing to subsidise the farm at the moment. Hopefully 2015 will see the start of ‘new entrants’ on a level playing field with established farms.
Our farm is let from the National Trust for Scotland and I can only thank them for giving us the chance here. They put a lot into the farm, buildings and house before we moved in and are keen to work with us as we progress. The farm is around 100ha (240 acres) and we have two shares on common grazing which would amount to a further 40ha (100 acres). The two barns are around 12m by 24m (40ft x 80ft), which gives plenty room for storage and lambing.
The plan at the moment is to have around 350 head of pure Blackface ewes and 10 Highland cattle, which we would winter outside where possible. The aim with the Blackface ewes is to produce ewe lambs for market and hopefully sell the wedder lambs to local hotels. This is only possible as we have an abattoir on Mull, which is a 10-minute ferry and 30-minute drive.
The reason we have stuck with Blackies is partly because I have been born and bred with the breed, and as they are very low input sheep. Iona is very productive and most lambs can be fat off their mothers by the beginning of September. With the new CAP package on the way, we are hopefully in a decent spot.
We have around 27ha (70 acres) of better quality land, which should pay around €200/ha. The rest is rough grazing, which is around €30/ha. Believe it or not, Iona is classified as a Less Favoured Area (LFA) but not severely disadvantaged (SDA) so we will not get coupled support for sheep. So with no historical support from the Government, I can only see it getting slightly easier for us in the near future.
So to sum up to all potential new entrants trying to get into farming – be determined, don’t give up and you may have to move!