A dram with… David Bell, Fairfield Farms

Photograph: Angus Findlay / Farmers Weekly

At MSP, we pride ourselves on being your partners in farming. Our teams get to know you and your farmlands, your requirements and your capabilities so that we can offer you the solution or product to suit.

In our latest A Dram With… blog, we caught up with David Bell, a long-time customer from Fairfield Farms to find out more about his farming career.

Partner, manager, farmer, David Bell is responsible for all of the buying, selling, marketing, HR – a bit of everything really – at his family farm in East Fife and has been buying and selling with MSP for over 20 years.

Read on to find out what he had to say…

Tell us about Fairfield Farms

“An arable and livestock farm, Fairfield Farms, in East Fife, is a challenging mix of owned, rented and contract farmed land turning out premium beef, salad potatoes for supermarkets, and malting barley for Scotch whisky and lager.

“On our 1200-hectare site, with some areas up to 650-feet above sea level, we have a real mix of ground and soil types. This can be a challenge, but it also provides great opportunity for the variety of livestock and crops we are responsible for.”

What services do MSP offer you?

“We purchase a full complement of commodities from MSP, including our barley seed, wheat, fertiliser and plant protection products.

“We also rely on the trained agronomy team for agronomy advice and recommendations. While I believe that farmers should educate themselves when it comes to their requirements and be mindful of what a sales rep is saying so you can understand the best advice for you, recommendations from MSP has always been valuable. As a large independent company, with an experienced team, MSP is able to provide a good insight in to what varieties work well in certain areas.

“Our feed for livestock, including protein sources, also comes from MSP. We use malt residual – the by-product of malting – for feeding, and MSP offers it at a good price and with full traceability.

“Our relationship with MSP extends to selling as well as buying, as MSP purchases our spring barley and winter wheat for malting purposes by parent company, Simpsons Malt.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“The best advice I’ve been given and what I live by is, ‘don’t be too hard on yourself’. As farmers, we can be very pessimistic, but there is no need to be. As long as you can learn from your mistakes, there is no harm in a bit of trial and progression. Don’t let the threat of failure stop you from trying something and learning from it – we all make mistakes, no one is perfect!”

What were your business highlights in 2018?

“2018 held many business highlights for me and I am very fortunate to be in a good position within the industry.

“Being shortlisted as a finalist in the Mixed Farmer of the Year category at the Farmers Weekly Awards was a huge personal achievement for me and the team. It was fantastic to be recognised for our hard work for the business and within the industry.

“As an active RSABI supporter, I was proud to be asked to feature in the charity’s promotional video and to be able to continue my support of the worthwhile work they are doing.

“I can’t talk about 2018 and not mention the cracking summer we had.  Yes, it came with its challenges, but as weather goes, I would take a glorious summer over the alternatives – if anything it gave me a great chance to work on my farmer’s tan!” 

What were the challenges in farming for you in 2018?

“It brought great highlights, but also many challenges. Early in 2018, we faced a family emergency when my father had a heart attack. As a family business, this took its toll on both our family and the running of the farm.

“The weather didn’t help the situation as we progressed through the year. The Beast from the East impacted lambing in pre-spring. With roads shut it was hard to access livestock, and snow was even getting in to the lambing shed. As a mixed farmer, your primary job is to look after land and livestock, and this was made very difficult by these weather conditions. The adverse weather was then followed by the driest summer on record. With a lot of marginal ground, producing fresh produce, grass for silage and grazing, and of course gain, yields were all back.

“Fortunately, where we can implement a proper rotation and build soil Organic Matter our ground has better moisture holding capacity and we saw some of the highest yields we have ever experienced.”

What did you learn?

“From the last 12 months I have learnt that every farm should be building up resilience and be more flexible in order to face whatever might come up. MSP is hugely flexible in this way and can always help, whether that’s the advice they give or the flexibility on delivery.

“It’s important for us as farmers to have options to choose different varieties for our different ground types. The importance of having an alternative, or a backup plan, was highlighted in 2018! It also taught me the importance of having good connections within the industry, – being able to have a good discussion on different topics with those in the know is invaluable – an open communication can avoid shocks or surprises.”

Would you recommend MSP?

“Yes – they don’t force anything, it’s there if you want it. They’ll supply it and supply it well, and invoice promptly. MSP is investing in its facilities and in young staff, which is great to see, plus the team are very active within the industry. Alongside their parent company, Simpsons Malt, MSP are always arranging visits to monitor farms or breweries – and everyone loves a trip!”

Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?

“Outside of work, what’s that? I am very passionate about the agri-industry so when I’m not on the farm I frequent a lot of industry events – to network or give talks. I sit on lots of boards and committees – this way I can give back to the industry that has given me so much.

“I also volunteer with RSABI and, when I can, play rugby. Unfortunately catching up on paperwork comes first though!”

You’re in the pub, and can choose ANY drink and ANY song to play – what would these be?

“My drink of choice would either be an Aberlour 12-year-old, or in the summer months a Brockmans gin & tonic with blueberries & strawberries! But when I do make it to the pub, I’d much rather talk than listen to music. It’s a great chance catch up with friends and not one I’d want to miss because of loud music!”

If you’d like to find out more about working with MSP or how we can benefit your farming business, contact us today and speak with a member of our expert team. Or if you’d like to share your story with us, find us on Twitter.