Scotland 2015: 1

I was recently granted a unique opportunity to represent Macra na Feirme and my local club Killeentierna Macra on an exciting exchange to Scotland in association with The Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs (SAYFC). It was a fun filled two weeks where I made new friends from Scotland and beyond, experienced for the first time rural Scottish life, culture and hospitality, visited some famous Scottish landmarks and attended the iconic Royal Highland Show.  I also got to learn and exchange ideas with not only members of the SAYFC and the United Kingdom but also with members of youth movements from Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and from as far a field as New Zealand and Canada.

Arriving in Edinburgh on Monday June 8th I met the beautiful Luna Orofiamma (Macra na Feirme Exchangee from Meath) at the airport. We were then welcomed and briefed by Penny Montgomery-Chief Executive of SAYFC on the itinerary for our two week stay and our accommodation arrangements. That evening, on arriving at the hostel we met the other exchangees and we were all generously treated to an informal meal at a local restaurant, courtesy of the SAYFC to conclude a great first day.

The following day we were taken to the SAYFC Headquarters in Islington where we met the hardworking staff. We learned about the SAYFC and how in a similar way to Macra na Feirme it offers the rural youth in Scotland with many opportunities to develop their skills and learning and provides an important social platform where they can exchange ideas and influence policies in relation to rural development and farming.

Later that day we visited Craigie’s Farm Café and Deli, which was one of the highlights of our trip for me. We were given a guided tour of this family farm by the owner John Sinclair, who explained how over the years the farm- that originated as a dairy farm- has evolved and diversified into a fruit farm with its own café and deli. This highlighted for me the importance of adapting and finding a niche in a difficult agri-food market so as to remain profitable and grow the farm enterprise. We got to the taste fresh strawberries and raspberries, which were absolutely divine and the pleasure of enjoying fresh in-season fruit has been a huge contributory factor to their growing café and deli business on the farm. Customers have the opportunity to come and spend the day enjoying the panoramic views of Edinburgh while picking their fresh in-season fruit for a small fee. This farm visit provided a great example of how with a little imagination and diversification farms can be profitable in an increasingly competitive environment.

In the afternoon we had a guided tour of the Scottish parliament buildings, famous for its unique architectural features and in the evening we had a formal meal at The Royal Overseas Club, Princes Street as guests of the SAYFC International Trust.

The next day we visited some famous Scottish landmarks including the Kelpies, the Falkirk Wheel and the Transport Museum in Glasgow. Later that day at a welcome dinner in the Fenwick Hotel we met our hosts from Ayrshire, whom we stayed with for the following week. My host was Jane Strawhorn and her family from Hurlford in Kilmarnock. David, Jane’s dad milks about 180 dairy Friesian cows in a 20 unit milking parlour. It was a busy time on the farm with silage cutting and during my time their I gained a real practical insight into life on a rural Scottish dairy farm.

The week spent with the host families was packed with fun activities, including farm tours, cycling, a young farmers water fight, treasure hunts, barbeques and numerous social gatherings.

The Strawhorn’s hospitality was exemplary, treating me like one of the family giving me an experience that I will forever appreciate. Some of my highlights from the week included visiting Jane’s uncle’s Gary Leitch’s farm, where I got to see for the first time a Lely Astronaut Milking Robot working. It showed how technology and the dairy industry is constantly advancing and developing and how in Ireland given the abolishment of quotas and the increasing size of dairy herds, this may suit some Irish farms, where the future focus will be on increasing yields and dairy herds with reduced labour costs and time.

We toured Patterton Holsteins farm where the Park family in Ayrshire milk 150 Brownhill Holsteins in one shed with a 32:32 Westfalia parlour and 2,250,000 gallon slurry system underneath it all. We also visited a large egg producing farm-Chalmerston Farm eggs and observed the processes involved in producing approximately 16 million fresh and free range eggs a year.       

On another day we cycled around the Isle of Millport enjoying the panoramic views of the landscape. We also got to participate in a very enjoyable and interesting Car Treasure Hunt, which may be something I can bring back to my own Macra club as an event we could look at hosting. Finally, I got to take part in a Stock-Judging Competition, visiting different farms in Stirlingshire with the other exchangees and I was delighted to have won this and be presented with a certificate from the Ayrshire Association of Young Farmers Clubs at the Kilted Kangeroo Pub afterwards.

The last few days of our exchange were spent at the hugely impressive Highland Show, where we met up with our hosts, the other exchangees and many new friends for the final time. I also met Macra na Feirme members from around the country who also travelled to the show. The show itself was a magnificent spectacle showcasing the best of Scottish livestock, machinery, food and entertainment. A particularly impressive feature was the ‘Scottish Larder Live’-a large experiential food show celebrating some of the finest Scottish produce with many sampling stations and some very interactive, well informed food producers.   

Before we departed for home we all signed for each other a copy of the Scottish flag as a memento of our trip.

I would like to thank Macra Na Feirme for giving me this amazing opportunity to get a unique insight and experience into Scottish rural life and culture.  I have made many friends on this trip, which I believe help to forge a strong link between our organisation and SAYFC. I hope that I can use some of the ideas, knowledge and insights that I have learned on this trip to the benefit of my local Macra Club and the wider Macra community.

Thomas Fitzgerald- Killeentierna Macra, Co. Kerry