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‘Young Farmer of the Year’ Harriet Ross

FARMER Harriet Ross (29), who grew up on the family arable farm in Aberdeenshire, has won Farmers Weekly’s Young Farmer of the Year Award.

Although Harriet was encouraged to pursue a non-agricultural degree, she found her way back to farming after realising her passion for the sector.

After graduating she spent several years working as a farming consultant, leaving the role in July in order to fully commit to her agriculture enterprises.

Now, alongside partner Ben, she owns a successful pig farm, manages what used to be her parents’ arable enterprise, runs a livery diversification, and holds a farm tenancy from the Aberdeen Endowments Trust. She employs six full-time staff, has 7,500 pigs at any one time and farms 485 hectares in total.

While at university, Harriet set up a livery business at the family farm, using a grant to convert a farm shed into an indoor school. In 2019, Harriet and Ben were among a number of applicants who applied to Aberdeen Endowments Trust for a short limited-duration tenancy at Newseat of Drumbreck.

Once shortlisted, they were thoroughly questioned by a judging panel and impressed with their comprehensive answers, as well as the written support from their bank and solicitor.

Harriet said: “When we found out we had been successful we were initially shocked but delighted to have been granted the opportunity. This gave us the foothold to embark on a long held ambition to farm in our own right”.

Two years into the agreement and with an end date looming, the couple were wary of investing any more in the holding. Following discussion earlier this year with the Trustees, agreement was reached to convert their short limited duration tenancy to a modern limited duration tenancy, allowing them to plan for the future.

Dave Green of Aberdeen Endowments Trust said: ‘In their original application for the tenancy of Newseat of Dumbreck back in 2019, Harriet and Ben’s commitment, and attention to detail, was evident. The trustees for the Aberdeen Endowment Trust were all in agreement with the decision to let Newseat of Dumbreck to them as new entrants.

“To be back on the farm with them three years later, and to be congratulating Harriet on winning this Young Farmer of the Year 2021 award, is an endorsement of what they have achieved in such a short time. The future of farming is in safe hands with young entrants like Harriett and Ben.”

As an adviser to the Aberdeen Endowments Trust, Savills Chris Gordon has witnessed Harriet’s effectiveness at first hand.

He said: “Recommending to the Trustees that Harriet and Ben should have their existing agreement extended and converted to a modern limited duration tenancy was an easy decision. And now Harriet’s aptitude for farming, and her outstanding entrepreneurial flair, has made her a very deserving recipient of the Young Farmer’s Award.”

This year, Harriet also took over the management of her parents’ neighbouring farming business, covering 235 ha of mainly arable land and growing wheat, oilseed rape, oats and barley.

At the same time they had been contracting for another owner, and after harvest 2020 they approached him to ask about a joint venture. Instead, in February 2021, he offered them the chance to buy it, partly based on the strength of their existing working relationship.

Harriet has impressively combined multiple enterprises that fully complement each other, showing good knowledge and a logical decision-making process.

The more regular income from the pigs helps support the arable system, the manure is used instead of fertiliser, and the land is used to grow food for the pigs, more than halving the food costs.

Meanwhile, the unit’s poorer land is utilised by the livery business.

CLA East regional director and independent judge said: “Harriet has worked hard to establish a sustainable and profitable business that is ready to adapt. She is reviewing alternative income streams to ensure the business remains viable and is interested in benchmarking against and learning from others.”

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