Stenton | Pitcox – change over time 1945 – 2000

Stella Findlay

Owner-occupied since 1948 bought by tenant from Biel Estate for £19,000.

Change over Time

  • Extra fields bought from Little Spott in 1988
  • New woods and shelterbelts around the farm
  • Employees reduced from 12 full time (plus seasonal squads, wives at singling and threshing) to 2 full time.

Land use

10% of the farm is in set aside, IOSR – Industrial Oil Seed Rape, woodland, game crop and stubble for the East Lothian Biodiversity group’s Grey Partridge Project (began in 2001).

Move from stock to arable; gradual, usually with the retiral of the stocksperson. Cart horses (stabling for 12) to tractors. Small pig enterprise, all employees got a weaner to fatten for their own consumption (along with barley meal), breeding and rearing to slaughter. Similarly with Suffolk sheep. 2 dairy cows for farm’s own use (milk was a perk for all employees). Cattle overwintered and fattened on turnips and silage in old cattle courts.

In the 1970s there was a small Border Leicester enterprise with the sale of Ram lambs at the autumn sales. It could not support a shepherd so all work done was by the farmer. During this same period there was a cattle cooperative going on. This entailed the overwintering at Pitcox, of a herd of cattle (Galloways and Hereford Bull), which were kept in a new purpose-built Crendon shed. Straw (barley) was utilised from the farm and concentrates were bought in. The cattle were then transported out to the hills either near Moffat or at Tollishill, where they spent the summer months having calves and gaining in condition. The stirks were sold as store to be finished elsewhere.

There was a period during the 1990s when there were no livestock enterprises on the farm. In 1998 the farm was taken on by Stella Findlay as a sole trader. The farm was in a serious financial crisis owing to a disastrous diversification project; the other partner was bought out of the farm business. Advice was taken, and it was decided to approach Grampian Country Food Group about rearing pigs. One side of the large cattle shed was converted into 4 blocks, each capable of holding 150 pigs under the Freedom Food Standards; ie. the pigs had ample room and were able to follow their natural instincts. Grampian capitalised this enterprise with a loan of £3000, which was repaid over the next 2 intakes of pigs. Grampian supply the pigs (18kgs) all of the food (expensive and high quality) medicine and transport. The farm supplies the labour and straw as well as the shed. This pig system is an all in all out high health status set up. We take in 600 boars three times per year for approx 14 weeks during which time, for the last four weeks, we draw off the largest and send them to Halls of Broxburn (also owned by Grampian) where they are processed into bacon for Marks and Spencer (the best 60%) and Tesco (the remainder). Each batch is paid for on a food conversion/weight gain basis and on average, the income covers the cost of half a man’s wages per annum.

The crops have changed drastically in every way imaginable.

In 1945 the farm was run using the traditional 6-year rotation: grass, potatoes, wheat, turnips, barley or oats undersown with the grass. Now the farm arable land is divided into 40% feed wheat, 40% malting barley and 20% break (OSR (Oil Seed Rape)/beans, as well as IOSR) and set aside.

New venture – water-bottling facility commenced 1993; commercial failure bought out by AG BARR PLC 1996 and separated from the farm business.

Buildings use

Farmhouse remains similar (cold and draughty).

8 bin grain store erected above old steading in old stackyard early 1950s.

Only original building is a Dutch barn extended for potato storage (is now leased from farm by Findlays for water bottling).

Old Steading demolished and a new concrete double span (Crendon) cattle shed was erected in 1971. Metal (Dale) grain store/machinery shed erected in 1984.

Half of cattle shed converted in 1998 for pig fattening. Following the Boxing Day storm of 1999 (when the old pantile cart shed was blown away) the insurance money was used to convert the other half for grain storage in 2000.

12 farm cottages remain in the ownership of the farmer. 1 is occupied by the 2 farm staff; the remainder have been rented out.

Goods produced

Less variety, nothing for farm consumption, everything (except the barley straw) sold off the farm. Far higher yields with the crops produced (better varieties and agro chemicals). OSR a new crop that provides benefits for the soil structure.

Methods of working the land

Increased machinery size and sophistication because of work rates. Plough is still the most popular method here. (Min till on lighter soils). Since 1998 due to very low organic matter levels in the soil, the wheat and OSR trash has been returned to the ground and incorporated using a shallow cultivator.

The Environment

Following CAP and subsidies on crop production, there was a huge political backlash; this was caused by a surplus of agricultural produce. Therefore the environmentalists became vocal especially about prairie farming and the effect that this was having on the wildlife. Times have changed and we are now paid to farm in an environmentally friendly way.

Pitcox applied and was accepted into the Countryside Premium Scheme (CPS ran between autumn 1997 and 2000; replaced by the Rural Stewardship Scheme in 2001), which encouraged the establishment of wildlife habitats. Hedges have been coppiced and replanted, a wild flower meadow has been incorporated, beetle banks and amenity woodland have been established, 3 ponds have been built and all water margins are protected from agrochemicals.

Other ways

Quality Assurance Schemes. Scottish Quality Cereals, which involves an annual inspection, large membership fee and traceability for all of my cereal crops. Freedom Foods, again which involves annual inspections and numerous record keeping. Without these schemes, produce would be unsaleable.

Summary of Land Use

Sadly, Pitcox is facing serious financial times, there is an unsympathetic government, low world commodity prices, and reduced EEC payments, and all of this is exacerbated by the high value of the pound relative to the Euro. As my accountant says, in line with all of his farmer clients, the net profit is exactly equal to the AAPS (Area Aid payments ie subsidies for farmers), which we received courtesy of Brussels. This is diminishing each year, and the future looks bleak. This has already been seen in the number of young people joining the industry. I have seven farmer neighbours, only one of whom has a son who is involved in the farm business.