Rory Christie.



What is your business called?

Dourie Farming Company Limited.

Where is it based?

Port William, near Stranraer, in the Machars of South West Scotland.

What does it produce?

We have a dairy farm that produces milk and, somewhat unusually, we also have pigs that we sell for pork and grow and sell Christmas trees!

To whom does it sell?

We sell our milk to The Fresh Milk Company, a subsidiary of French multi-national Lactalis. We sell our pigs to Scotlean Pigs Ltd., a small producer co-op based in Carlisle, who market both English and Scottish pigs, and we sell our Christmas trees through Cadbey Tree Trust, who are agronomists and tree sellers. They in turn sell them on to places like Dobbies and the big supermarket chains.

What is its turnover?

Around £2.5 million.

How many employees?

We take people on seasonally, but there’s an average of eight.

When was it formed?

The business was formed in 1954 by my grandfather, who was the managing director and shareholder. He set up the business with the help of three others who helped him raise the capital to buy the farm at Dourie when it was being sold off.

Why did you take the plunge?

I would have liked to be World Rally Champion but that might have been too ambitious and so I decided to follow my father and grandfather into farming!

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was still studying at college in Edinburgh.

How did you raise the start-up funding?

My grandfather managed to buy out the other gentlemen that helped him set up the business in the first place, and then my father became the next generation to farm here. We then managed to, over time, buy out other family members and shareholders, and now my brother Gregor and I own the farm.

What was your biggest break?

This is a tough question to answer. It’s been demanding over the years because agriculture has changed so much, and the commercial environment is still very challenging. I've been lucky that I’ve got an entrepreneurial and resilient personality – that realization was probably my biggest break!

I've also been lucky due to the success of my forefathers- having land was my biggest resource, so I tried to build a farming system that used its natural assets, which were the land and the moderate west coast weather, because we didn't have very much capital available at all. I have a very good contract with Lactalis producing milk for cheese, so I built my dairy system around that contract. The other thing that has been hugely important is that both Gregor and I are enthusiastic about farming.

What was your worst moment?

Without a doubt it has to be the 2015 dairy crisis. This was caused by high milk prices worldwide and good weather conditions which boosted supply. The perfect storm occurred when a slackening of demand, primarily from China, combined with the increased production put supply and demand out of balance.

Little has changed since - the market is currently in balance but the biggest risk is a weather event.

2015 was therefore exceptionally challenging. I'd built the dairy side of the business very rapidly. We'd also invested heavily in pigs, including building a pig unit, and in 2015 the prices for both dairy milk and pigs dropped significantly. We had to change the system from twice a day milking to once a day, because I had extra milk coming on that wasn't wanted. It has definitely made me more cautious.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I enjoy seeing people working well together. We’re invested in developing young people in agriculture and the opportunities available to them, and I enjoy seeing plans coming to fruition.

Running the business has also afforded me other, related, opportunities. For example, I am proud to be the current Chair of the Milk Suppliers Association (MSA). The MSA exists to represent the farmers that supply milk into the Stranraer based, Caledonian Creamery, which is owned by Lactalis. With help from the Scottish Agricultural Organisations Society and the Scottish Government, we formed the MSA to ensure we had the mandate to speak with one voice on behalf of the supplying farmers and to help counterbalance some of the unfairness we feel exists in the dairy supply chain.

When you start to think about the multiplier effect and the amount of money that strong farming businesses plough back into other businesses (vets, feed merchants etc.), it's amazing how much impact farming makes to homes, rural and urban, across Scotland.

What do you least enjoy?

The inevitable worry that the weather causes us! Dairy performance is very exposed to the weather.

What is your biggest bugbear?

Our supply chain does not work. I think there is far too much risk pushed down to the primary producer. I've worked for many years to try and correct it, but I still don’t think that food is valued properly.

Retailers and supermarkets want to buy milk, for example, at the lowest cost to make a profit from it. This puts price pressures on suppliers and processors, which is passed down to farmers and it feels like there’s nothing to stop that happening.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

Our ambition is to make the company resilient to the volatility of the market and to create a stable cash producing business that will continue to the next generation.

What are your top priorities?

To decrease debt; to increase the technical performance of the dairy; the technical performance of our pigs, cost control and increased yield per cow.

We only milk cows once a day, but it’s not fixed- we might go back to milking twice a day in the future, but I think a combination of genetic advancement, genetic selection, breeding technique and understanding of what makes up the cows’ milk on my farm will make the biggest difference - I have to sell more, it's as simple as that.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

They need to ensure policies introduce a fairer deal in the supply chain and help give farmers a bit more risk protection.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

That good ideas can take a long time to develop, and that until you walk in other people's shoes, until you really listen to what people are saying, you should always check your own confirmation bias in favour of your existing views.

How do you relax?

Watching films but I don't see many of them! I like reading and I enjoy being with good company.