One of the renowned experts in Scottish dairying farming and research, Hugh McClymont – who managed the SRUC Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, for decades – was the speaker at the latest meeting hosted by Fermanagh Grassland Club.

At an open meeting of the Club sponsored by the Vaughan Trust, in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen, Hugh recalled his career of more than 40 years as Farm Manager as he spoke on the theme, ‘Sustainable Dairy Farming in Scotland’.

Originally from Wigtownshire, Hugh was managing the research facility until retiring in 2023 after 44 years of service.

During his long career, he won multiple awards, including Dairy Farmer of the Year in 2013.

He also serves on many agricultural organisations, including with the organisers of the Royal Highland Show.

Crichton Royal Farm has an area of some 252 hectares and the land was bought by the Crichton Royal Psychiatric Hospital between 1884 and 1894, to provide food for the hospital and work for its patients.

The farm has always been at the forefront of innovation: a milking machine was installed in 1907 and, in 1925, a silo was built for silage, well before these were common in Scotland.

In 1975 the ownership of the farm was transferred from Dumfries and Galloway Health Board to the Scottish Office (now Scottish Government), and SRUC took over the tenancy.

In addition to the Crichton Royal Farm, SRUC also rents some neighbouring land.

The Acrehead Dairy Unit was built in 1979 and, in 2002, the Crichton Dairy Unit was upgraded when all the SRUC dairy research was consolidated at Dumfries.

Crichton is also an innovation site for LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming).

Hugh said a good definition of sustainablility was that a business could only be sustainable if the business was robust and “do what you do well”.

He said dairy farmers had changed their businesses according to government policy many times, and further change would be necessary.

“We are food producers for a growing global population,” said Hugh.

He said the major milk buyers are now looking for compliance, and milk payments would take into account various factors such as sustainability.

For some of these conditions for payment, records of farm performances need to be kept such as calvings, but new records are being introduced, such as body condition score, hair loss such as rubbed hocks, mobility scores and cleanliness.

Milk buyers such as Arla want a cow brush provided for every 70 cows. Many of these features help the farmer achieve an extra 1p per litre.

Farmers are also asked to look for alternative proteins than soya, and to examine feed additives to reduce methane production.

The use of legumes in rotational grazing and diets might be another demand as well as encouraging farmers to adopt green energy and provide a habitat area for wildlife, bees and birds, he said.

Hugh helped to introduce school visits to the farm and this has been developed over the years.

Crichton Royal Farm has been at the forefront of innovative research over the years and Hugh has introduced alternative crops such as lupins, beans and lucerne, but with maize being the most favourable.

One of the noted achievements is the Langhill dairy herd, which has been at the forefront of the longest-running animal breeding project.

The Langhill breeding experiment was established in the early 1970s and still continues to operate at the SRUC Dairy Research Centre at Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries.

The genetic lines of the cattle have been selected on the basis of fat plus protein yield (maximum versus national average) for more than four decades, and the study also includes contrasting management strategies (currently feeding systems based on either 1.5 or 4.5 tonne of concentrate per cow per annum).

The Langhill database provides more than 40 years’ worth of records that scientists can access, alongside the ongoing research in this facility, and this invariably adds value to research conducted at the centre.

The extensive database incorporates all animal performance, fertility and health records, as well as field records. Linkage with field, soil, weather and herbage records is an important strength for many projects.

The major grassland event, Scotgrass, has been hosted by Crichton Royal Farm on numerous occasions, where there have been working demonstrations.

Hugh has been the lead judge of the Grassland Farmer of The Year award.

He spoke about industry challenges for farmers that include labour, lifestyle and wellbeing, and automation, but said at the end of the day dairy farmers need to have more stability and educate consumers about food and farming.

His take-home message was: “It’s not what you have, it’s what you do with what you have.”