Alan Graham is a partner in a family farming business in central Scotland. On graduating from the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, he returned to the family business and has been heavily involved in all aspects of the beef finishing and arable cropping enterprise for the past 15 years, developing a range of skills in livestock management, arable husbandry and management, and, more recently, has taken a particular interest in promoting development opportunities for the partnership.
Earlier this year I had the privilege to attend the Oxford Farming Conference as part of the Emerging Leaders programme. The event lived up to my expectations with excellent speakers, inspiring venues and a wonderful group of delegates, and it opened my eyes up to new opportunities.
We’ve just finished preparing a batch of Luing bullocks for a local wholesaler that sells Scottish Beef to the restaurant and hotel trade in London. This is a change for our business as for years we have solely focussed on supplying large processors with artic loads of fat cattle. Whilst supplying cattle to large processors will remain the focus of the business, it will be interesting to see how matching certain types of cattle to specific markets helps to add value.
Our product is good and the story behind it is a good one, and any way of maximising returns should be explored. Eighty percent of our cattle are sourced privately rather than through the market, reducing stress for the animals and creating long standing arrangements where cattle arrive from the same farms every year. The remaining 20% are sourced from the Highlands and Islands through an auctioneer that understands our business. We operate an efficient system that prioritises animal welfare and maximises the use of our resources.
The bulk of the cattle we sell are continental breeds and suit the large processor that we supply. But every year we take in a significant number of native breed cattle to graze some of our rougher land. Whilst these cattle hit the specifications required by the large processor, it has been apparent that greater prices can be achieved by sending them elsewhere. It will be interesting to see if the premium for these cattle makes the extra effort to prepare smaller batches worthwhile.