Farmers Weekly 18th May 2012
Having been involved with the NSA Scotland executive committee for some time, I was excited when I was asked to chair the organising committee of Scotland’s flagship sheep event - NSA Scotsheep 2012.
This year it’s to be held at Dumfries House Farm near Cumnock – an enterprise farmed by the supermarket giant Morrisons and owned by a charitable trust headed up by the Prince of Wales. Who wouldn’t be excited at the prospect of getting involved in an event with credentials like that?
Dumfries House itself is a breathtakingly beautiful stately home that can boast a unique collection of Chippendale furniture amongst its many other treasures. So it’s not too difficult to understand why Prince Charles should take such a keen interest in preserving the place and opening it up to the public. However, I was slightly bewildered as to why Morrisons would want to try their hand at farming there. I was further confounded by the idea of them opening themselves up to the scrutiny of the severest bunch of critics in the universe - other farmers!
Before I went to see the farm for the first time I had already decided that any farm where a corporate giant would chose to farm was going to leave me permanently disabled with grinding envy. I imagined glass lifts zipping up and down from the farm office on the top of a control tower. Electrically operated wrought iron gates on the bull pens emblazoned with a big ‘M’ logo also featured in my dreams.
Thankfully, once I got there and saw the place I found that all my notions about pretentiousness were completely wrong. Yes, Dumfries House farm is an impressive place that is well stocked and well managed. But, crucially, I didn’t get the feeling that any of it was being done to try and impress the likes of me.
The investment that Morrisons have made there has been carefully spent with an eye to making the farm a commercially viable unit. This is where I have to take my hat off to them. It would have been all too easy with their resources to flatten the place entirely and build a jaw-dropping new set-up, complete with ornate wrought iron gates on the bull pens.
It’s only after spending some time at the farm over the last six months in the run-up to Scotsheep that the penny has finally dropped with me as to why Morrisons saw this as the perfect place to start farming.
It’s not the fine stately home and the Chippendale furniture. It’s not even the grand new sheds and the fields full of fine examples of native breeds of cattle and sheep that make this place so special.
To be able to see the most impressive thing at Dumfries House nowadays you have to stand back a bit and take a look at the bigger picture. Had it not been for the intervention of the Great Steward of Scotland’s Dumfries House Trust and their joint venture with Morrisons this would have been just another crumbling estate standing on the edge of a mining town that had known better times.
Now, the most impressive thing to be seen around the estate is the sheer numbers of people that are employed there. The smiling Ayrshire lassies serving in the café, the smartly turned out tour guides working in the house and a farm manager with unspeakable stuff stuck to his boiler-suit. These are the successes that Morrisons have helped to create here. I’m very impressed, and I think you would be too.