In Your Shoes - Thomas Pate

Thomas Pate is the fourth generation of his family to farm at South Powrie, which straddles the Dundee and Angus border and as such is one of the very few farms within the Dundee City boundary. The farm is mainly arable, growing 600-acres of cereals, with some pigs and a few sheep, and with his wife and three children, he also rears KellyBronze turkeys to sell directly from the farm at Christmas time.

WHERE IT ALL STARTS (THE WEEK AND THE FOOD CHAIN!)

Today I have been around checking the crops. Today’s photograph shows a field of wheat overlooking Dundee with Fife, Tentsmuir and St Andrews Bay in the distance. It was sown last October, and takes a full 11 months of nurture and nature to get the crops to harvest stage. The main aim is to get the best yield from what is planted. More grain, more income. The weather is a major influence on our business but one which is out of our control. Too much or too little sun, no rain or a damp harvest can all make a big difference to yield. The wheat is currently enjoying the sunshine which will help build yield and has recovered very well from an unprecedented long dry spell in spring.  It is now in flower and should be ready to harvest in September, when it will go on to produce alcohol spirit in the distilling industry or for animal feed. Let’s hope the weather plays ball and we can reap some reward at harvest.

A busy week ahead with new arrivals and crops to tend but more of that tomorrow....

WOOLLY LAWNMOWERS

Later this week our turkey chicks arrive so we need to get their paddock ready. Our KellyBronze turkeys enjoy the great outdoors, free ranging and foraging freely in a large grass field where we have also planted some fruit and broadleaved trees.  While they do eat grass, at this time of year we need a little extra help to keep the grass under control, so we have employed the services of our five ewes and their seven lambs to act as grass-powered lawnmowers. Before moving them, we rounded them up, gave them a quick health check and sheared them for the summer. We keep sheep mostly as a hobby as we love having them on the farm, but unfortunately for most commercial sheep flocks, this is uncertain times with Brexit forecast to hit the sheep sector the hardest as exports to continental Europe are key market for the UK. The wool is worth very little nowadays too as synthetic materials have gained popularity – the cost of shearing is only just covered by the price of wool. Most farming is a bulk commodity industry which is heavily influenced by imports, exports, currency fluctuations and global markets.  The outcome of Brexit is major influence for us going forward.

HAPPY AS A PIG IN…

Last week we took delivery of 500 piglets from a farm in Fife.  The pigs are raised to RSPCA Freedom Food and Quality Meat Scotland Standards and are routinely audited for health and welfare.  Reared on deep straw they are happy, healthy pigs and are raised to an antibiotic free status.  Giving animals under our care a decent life, whilst delivering a product demanded by the market is a challenging but satisfying job. It’s with great pride that I can say that British farmers are some of the best in the world at producing high quality, high welfare and safe food.

These pigs arrive at about 5kg and will stay with us for five months when they will weigh approximately 110kg.  The pigs belong to a large national pig producer which breeds, fattens and processes around 45,000 pigs each week.  This may seem a large number of pigs but when supplying supermarkets with millions of consumers the scale is understandable.  This “Bed and Breakfast” arrangement - where we look after someone else’s pigs - provides us with steady income and a good supply of manure for our crops! 

BUSMAN’S HOLIDAY

Farmers are renowned for not believing in holidays and time off (ask my wife!). A day away from the business can be difficult to justify when you are busy, but the Royal Highland Show is an event that is well worth downing tools for.  The four-day event is not only a showcase for the rural sectors but a place where town meets country and we learn from each other as suppliers, customers, custodians and users.  The Thursday and Friday are the business end of the show with many meetings, debates and conferences to attend.  Deals are done and business networking is to the fore.  For farmers, it is also a social highlight of the year where friends and colleagues mingle in what can otherwise be a secluded way of life.  Around 190,000 visitors visit the show each year, demonstrating how successful the show is and hopefully the majority leave with a sense of the vibrant, diverse and professional industries the Scottish rural sector encompasses. Apart from anything else, there’s big machines to drool over.

THE COUNTDOWN TO CHRISTMAS IS ON

A big day in our farming calendar today as we take delivery of this year’s turkeys.  The day-old chicks arrive straight from the hatchery and for the next four weeks I play mother hen.  Brooding the chicks is a fulltime job but it’s not long before they are ready to fly the nest and start free ranging.  Having the turkeys on farm from day-old right through to Christmas processing is important for us as it gives us 100% control of their rearing and ensures a product of the highest quality.  It also means “food miles” are replaced by “food yards”, a rarity in today’s food supply chain. December is now our busiest month on the farm.  Hand plucking, preparing and marketing 600 turkeys is no mean feat especially as we do it the old-fashioned way to give the ultimate Christmas dinner experience - all about quick cooking and amazing taste.  In the days before Christmas we have a pop-up shop in one of our barns so our customers can pick up their whole Christmas meal from other local suppliers when they collect their turkey with bacon, sausages and stuffings from Puddledub, local farm veg and homemade Christmas puddings. We really value the direct connection with our customers and love being able to provide a special farm-to-fork experience for what is perhaps the most important meal of the year.