The South West Scotland Grassland Society

An Historical Note

By G E D Tiley, Hon. Secretary, SWSGS

While the origins of the South West Scotland Grassland Society owed much to the inspiration and enthusiasm of grass land scientists and advisers back in 1962, its subsequent development and successes were largely determined by the interest and enthusiastic support of the farmers of SW Scotland, with great encouragement from technical and commercial members.

The following excerpts from the 1962 and 1987 editions of ‘ Greensward ‘ give an insight into the foundation and early days of the Society and highlight the aims and aspirations of its Founder Members. It will be seen that, even though 50 years have passed, these remain very much the same today.

This is how it all began……..At and immediately after the Winter Meeting of the British Grassland Society, 6-8 December 1961, Dr Castle and I V Hunt discussed the possibility of forming a Regional Grassland Society in the West of Scotland. From then until the 20th February  discussions were held with Principal Hendrie, Dr J AB Smith and members of the County Advisory Service.

The following conclusions resulted from these meetings.

  1. That if there was to be a Grassland Society, it should be as a result of a need shown by farmers and that its direction should largely be by farmers.
  2. That the decision whether to form a Society should be made at as big a meeting of farmers possible, brought about by staging a demonstration in the spring on some topic of interest.

The proposals seemed to be favourably received and plans went ahead for the demonstration which was to comprise two parts; silage – dealt with at the Hannah Dairy Research Institute and hay – at the West of Scotland and Agricultural College Farm, Auchincruive. When all plans were made, invitations were sent to a large number of farmers in the four southern counties, Ayrshire, Kirkcudbright, Wigtown and Dumfries. 

South West Scotland Grassland Society Foundation Day

The season played a few tricks with the arrangements for the demonstration. Most grass crops were backward, but a fine spell of weather before the demonstration allowed both the Hannah and Auchincruive to get on with their silage and hay making, and it went against the grain to pull back on the work. The field of hay set aside for the Auchincruive part of the demonstration was whittled down to about an acre by June 14th.

The weather was not promising, especially for demonstrating the advantages of wilting grass before making hay or silage on what might well be a memorable day in the history of the agriculture of South West Scotland. Sixty to seventy farmers were expected. By the previous day nearly two hundred had indicated their intention of joining. On the day itself about two hundred and fifty attended the demonstration on the morning and early afternoon, whilst slightly less than that number were able to sit through to the in augural meeting and sign the roll as Foundation members. The in augural meeting of the Grassland Society began at 3 o’clock with an outline of the objectives by the Chairman, Principal D S Hendrie.

He introduced Mr J Watt Taylor, Chairman of the North of Scotland Grassland Society who described the working of their society and indicated the benefits to be obtained from such a Society It could be a meeting place where farmer and scientist could hammer out their problems to advantage.

Quoted from Greensward, Issue No l , November 1962.

The detailed history of the Society has been regularly recorded in the 52 issues of ‘Greensward ‘. These have recently been scanned electronically by Andrew Best and are now available on disk. A complete printed version is also to be bound in permanent form. 

A message from the Chairman in 1987 J M L Milligan, Culvennan, Castle Douglas

‘ Tremendous changes have taken place in Grassland farming during the 25 years that our Society has been in existence. Changes that were needed, and changes that were helped by the Society. Grass has a vital part to play in farming in South West Scotland. I believe that our future depends on grass and whether it be grazed or conserved, there is scope for improvements in grass land management and, in the future, it can play a further part in encouraging the uptake of new developments. Farmers have been able to learn from guest speakers, and from new techniques, demonstrated at open days and at farm walks. It is the spread of such information that has been and will remain so important and so valuable to the Grassland farmer.

Over the years, grass has changed from something that “just grows” to become a crop in its own right, a crop that can be managed to provide a feed of the highest quality for ruminant livestock. The geographical area covered by our Society has witnessed this change, and has seen the four South West counties emerge at the forefront of progressive grassland farming. Grass will hold a critical place in the difficult economic conditions likely to pertain in the future. The Society, therefore, will continue to provide the help needed. The growing awareness amongst farmers of the Society’s value, and the lively interest in its work will sustain activities over the next 25 years.

Our Society’s aim for the future must be to encourage and sustain confidence in the value of grass and silage as the economic keys to the efficient production of milk and meat from home-grown sources ‘ .

From ‘A Brief History of SWSGS’, Malcolm E Castle