We arrived in the Presbytery of Kincardine and Deeside on Saturday afternoon and were duly welcomed by the organising committee. I preached in two churches on Sunday. In the morning I was guest preacher at St Cyrus Church it was a joint service including the congregations of Johnshaven together they make up make up the coastal Parish of the Means. In the afternoon we met up with ministers in the Presbytery and had a join Presbytery wide service at Portlethen. In all it was a busy Sunday one in which we met a good number of people giving us a feel for the work and the challenges facing the church in this rural area.
Monday morning Ronnie Gall one of the organising group and minister at Laurencekirk picked us up begin our visits of the farms. This was a great opportunity to meet farmers working in three very distinct areas of farming. We arrived at Haughead Farm and were met by Liz the local secretary of the National Farmer’s Union. It was thanks to NFU that we were having the chance to meet with John McWilliams. John owns this farm in partnership with his father. He explains to me that it is an arable farm and his two main crops are potatoes and daffodil bulbs. Its been a difficult year in this part of the country because of the excessive rain which has brought a lot of flooding. None the less John is upbeat about his work and his business. We had a far ranging discussion over a cup of coffee having being driven around the many fields in which he is growing crops.
Our next port of call was to meet Blair and Judy Colquhoun at Dendoldrum Farm. Blair is a dairy farmer and he is devoted to the cause. He has over 700 head of cattle. What made this visit interesting was the way the cows are milked. This is an totally automated farm. Robots carry out the milking. It was an interesting visit. There is no doubt that the beasts are well looked after, however one couldn’t help thinking cows belong on the fields rather that kept in sheds. While for some of the time they are out on grass for most of the time they are inside.
The truth of all this is that we the consumers demand cheaper and cheaper food. Until recently the supermarkets were paying so little to the farmers for milk that many of them were just going out of business. What I learned yesterday was that farming is an industry. A very well regulated industry, but that perhaps the romance of the country life has been touched by the stone cold reality of modern day economics.
The third visit was to Stuart and Angela Kerr at Keilburn Farm. Stuart is a beef farmer. He too has a large herd of cattle that he is fattening to go to the slaughterhouse in due course. Like many beef farmers he has experienced difficult times. However he is confident that things are improving. In a strange turn of fate, the horse meat scare has meant that more people are returning to the local butcher where meat can be easily traced.
In all it was a fascinated day and a huge thank you to all who made us so welcome. This visit highlighted for us the fact that farming is no longer a labour intensive industry. The merging of farms to create viable arable units has made the use of large machinery economically essential. The mechanisation of the milking parlour has meant that fewer people are required to work on dairy farms. The practice of shared husbandry of cattle means that specialisation in this field has allowed larger herds to be tended by fewer workers.