One year ago I left the family arable and potato farm in East Lothian and headed north to Perth to begin my sandwich placement year in the Food and Farming team.This was part of my BSC (Hons) course in agriculture with farm business management at Harper Adams University.
I had spoken to a number of the team members before joining, all of whom said ‘no two days are ever the same at Savills’. Looking back on a full year, this is most definitely true; partly due to the diverse nature of the calendar year but also due to the incredibly entrepreneurial spirit of many of the farming clients.
I was placed straightaway into a varied role, which covered everything from carrying out property inspections on a wide range of estates and reporting back to colleagues to checking wheat fields for pest damage and measuring field margins. Being out and about in the countryside and meeting a diverse range of Savills farming clients really suited me and having grown up on a farm helped me relate to client circumstances.
The autumn brought a bit more desk time and I began to work with colleagues to produce financial reports for contract farming agreements and prepare budgets for the upcoming year. I was familiar with our arable operations at home, but had much to learn about livestock farming from my team, who between them manage over 21,000 ewes and over 600 suckler cows across many different farms.
Spending time out and about with our farming clients, and attending their quarterly farm meetings, improved my livestock knowledge enormously and writing budgets and management reports made so much more sense after I had seen their application in the real world.
Before I knew it I had completed five months of my placement and I was asked to be involved in a number of graduate events. This included a three-day training course at Savills head office in the heart of London, a far cry from the rolling hills of Perthshire.
The Christmas parties and holidays passed and we were straight into creating maps and uploading supporting evidence for Agri Environment Scheme applications on behalf of a number of clients. This led into the Food and Farming team’s busiest period of the year: the run-up to the Basic Payments Scheme deadline on 15 May.
So spring saw me back out in the field, getting to grips with Savills GPS mapping system all over the north of Scotland, measuring prime arable potato land in Angus and plotting new fences north of Aberdeen.
In June, a large amount of our time was taken up finding the right candidate for an exciting contract farming opportunity on a Perthshire estate. While Savills is often focused on encouraging new entrants into the sector, this opportunity, which involved the management of 2,000 acres on a mixed livestock and arable farm, required an experienced contractor.
This project gave me the opportunity to work with Savills HR, Marketing and PR teams to promote the post and to set up appointments for prospective contractors to view the farm before submitting tenders. Once these had been reviewed, I helped to organise interviews with the estate owner. It was a rewarding process to be part of, from start to finish: the new farm contractor takes up their post on 1 December.
Taking part in the Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s largest outdoor event, was a sociable end to a busy month, giving Savills rural specialists, from farm agents to planners, the opportunity to host around 750 members of Scotland’s farming community. Discussions ranged from whether now was a good time to sell and what trade agreements might look like post-Brexit to what might be the most profitable project to develop on a farm.
It is not long before I return to university for my fourth and final year. I will go back to the textbooks with a whole new outlook on what is involved in operating a modern rural farm business. My year in the Food and Farming team has shown me that generating sustainable income relies as much on a passion and aptitude for farming the land as it does on innovation and business prowess.