Andrew and Aileen Marchant

Clonhie Farm, A. and A. Marchant, Dumfries and Galloway

The road to taking on Clonhie Farm, Dumfries and Galloway, in 2012 for husband and wife team Andrew and Aileen Merchant was paved with many challenges, but with a shared ambition to farm in their own right, taking on their own holding had always been the goal.

With neither of them from family farming backgrounds, Andrew gained a degree in agriculture and worked up to a farm managers role on a dairy and beef unit, while Aileen worked as a secondary school teacher in the years before they took on the tenancy.

Thereafter, the focus has been to grow the business, which, run over 300 ha (750 acres), now comprises 1,000 ewes, 30 cows and 150 hinds.

Andrew says: “We started with sheep to turn cash over more quickly while Aileen continued her job in teaching, which allowed us to grow the business rapidly as we could live on Aileen’s wage and reinvest everything else into the business.

“Alongside the growing flock, we took in cattle for the winter and some summer grazers to best utilise the farm and increase income.”

The road has not been without its challenges, fundamentally in terms of land availability and finance.

“Few viable units on long term tenancies becoming available on the open market meant we spend a lot of time looking for a suitable farm – we were willing to relocate and looked at various types of holdings.

“Alongside the finance we obtained, I worked off the farm for the first three years on local farms, sheep shearing and contract farming which brought with it its own challenges in trying to juggle family life with two young children and the pressure of trying to grow a new business.”

This is also coupled with factors out of the pair’s control, with two hard years of weather in 2013 and latterly in 2018 owing for significant losses.

“For us the farm is first and foremost a business, and although it has to be due to some fairly impressive borrowings, we still love the life we have and the environment we are privileged to raise our children in.”

The judges said about Andrew and Aileen: Andrew and Aileen have created a sound business model, demonstrating a clear consideration of various options for the different enterprises on the farm and an overall progressive approach with clear vision for the future business. A sheer credit to the new blood coming into the agricultural industry.

On winning, Andrew and Aileen said: “It is absolutely amazing to have won the award and we are proper proud. It would be easy for us as farmers to lie down and take the criticism thrown at us but these kinds of events are what lights the fire and enthusiasm in our sector. Farming is something we do because we love it, but we wouldn’t be where we are without the help and support of those we love.”