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Winners follow-up: Aimee Budge – 2018 Agricultural Student of the Year

Through her own example and leadership, Aimee Budge, 2018 Agricultural Student of the Year winner, is pushing forward productivity and positivity across the Shetland Islands and beyond. 

Aimee Budge’s passion for agriculture is palpable, as is her desire to share knowledge and best practice with fellow farmers.

Having lost their father in a tragic farming accident, she, alongside her elder sister Kirsty, took over the running of their family farm that has been in the family for 150 years.

Operating in the challenging conditions of the Shetland Islands, Aimee has juggled the farm with her studies where she has recently graduated with a merit in a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from Scotland’s Rural College.

As the seventh generation to farm at Bigton, the farm runs across 300 hectares (741 acres) and comprises 240 sheep, 70 suckler cows and are one of few units to grow 25ha (62 acres) of their own barley, which is a significant achievement in itself given the varying climate of the island.

So impressive are her work ethic and achievements to date, she wowed judges to go on to be named the winner of last year’s Agricultural Student of the Year at the British Farming Awards.

When asked how she balanced farming, studying and travelling, her answer is testament to her ‘can do’ attitude and resilience.

Aimee says: “I have worked hard to juggle running the farm at home while continuing with my studies. Given that both are a significant time commitment, and with travel between Shetland and Aberdeen, this has involved forward planning and commitment from me to ensure both have been a success.

“I always helped out on the farm when I was younger and I just knew what I wanted to do. I love being active outside and I could not think of doing another job now.

“I studied agriculture because I love working with animals and I was just following my passion.”

“I studied agriculture because I love working with animals and I was just following my passion. I wanted to go to university to create opportunities and get off the island.

“I love home, but Shetland is very isolated and I knew I could find bigger opportunities and better experiences by going to university.”

Between college and travelling home, Aimee completed work experience at Tolquhon Farm to develop her practical skills and experience.

“I believe gaining practical experience from other farms is very important in preparing to run your own farm. This meant I had responsibilities in Aberdeen,
as well as at home, but I enjoyed every day working at Tolquhon.

“I met great people which has increased my confidence, enhanced my communication skills and provided me with many new contacts.”

Sharing knowledge is a key area of focus and the farm is now a Quality Meat Scotland monitor farm, with the sisters involved in organising and running the meetings, presenting and providing data and promoting women in agriculture.

Dispersed

“Becoming a monitor farm brings together the dispersed rural farming community six times a year for networking and general socialising.

“The project also provides us all with an opportunity to gain knowledge from guest speakers with the aim to improve efficiency and productivity of not only the host farm, but other farms across Shetland.

“It has really focused me to look at the business in detail and highlight improvements which can be made. For example, the farm used to only sell store lambs, which was unprofitable, so have switched to finishing them after a suggestion from one of the management team.

“I encourage suggestions and advice from the management team and I am very open to changes on-farm, as I can see there are improvements to be made.”

Communication also extends to the launch of their own group to work with the other four barley growers on the island to help everyone involved work more efficiently and improve productivity.

Farming on Shetland has some unique challenges, including a short growing season, which means cattle on the island are usually housed for longer, increasing feed costs.

Aimee says: “The weather, especially the high winds, can also be a challenge, and transport costs for animals, feed and other supplies are also much higher compared with most farms on the mainland.

“While there are certainly  challenges, there are also a lot of positives. Shetland is a beautiful place to live and work and has a wonderful farming community. People here are incredibly friendly and supportive.”

Since graduating from Scotland’s Rural College, Aimee is managing the farm full-time alongside Kirsty and hopes to travel and experience the different types of agriculture across the world.

“I am very interested in the ways other people run their farms. I can see the benefit of experiencing other farms, having done so in Aberdeen and gained valuable knowledge from this.

“Our key changes we have made so far are in improving our grazing management, so ewes have not been grazed on the isle over tupping to decrease our losses of sheep going over the cliffs.

“We have also decreased our barley area, but hopefully with increased inputs, we will gain an increased yield.”

Amazingly, despite all these commitments, Aimee is active away from the farm and is a keen horserider, sits on the committee for the Equestrian Society and volunteers at her local primary school’s netball club, where she facilitates training and helps out at league games.

After discovering and joining Garioch Young Farmers Clubs while at university, her experience with the organisation has fuelled an ambition to launch a group at home, where there are none.

Aimee says: “We have a group up and running and we have had three meetings so far. Forty-three people attended the first meeting and everyone seems really enthusiastic.

“We are hoping to promote ourselves over summer, then become affiliated at the end of the year.

“I realised how important young farmer clubs are in bringing rural young people from different backgrounds together.”

“After serving my time as a member of Garioch, I realised how important young farmer clubs are in bringing rural young people from different backgrounds together.”

Having found so many rewards in bringing people together, it is unsurprising to hear of her ambition to promote farming to the wider public and invite them to learn more about food and farming.

“I want to develop an educational learning centre where the public, tourists and children can visit and learn about farming and actively participate in some of the tasks necessary for food production.

Welfare

“I want people to understand where their meat comes from and realise the high welfare standards farmers adhere to to produce high quality meat which
tastes far better than imported meat.

“I also want people to realise shopping local supports family farms and the hard work they do.”

Being unafraid of change and a determination to innovate and progress, Aimee pays tribute to the strong team the sisters have behind them to help get the farm to where it is now.

She says: “Our grandfather and our dad have always been very forward-thinking and open to change. They have always looked at the farm and thought what can we do better?

“They have definitely passed that on to us and I hope we are doing the things my dad might have done if he was here.”

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