Digging deep at the Lothians Monitor Farm

The upcoming Lothians Monitor Farm meeting on Wednesday 19 July will see soil expert Mark Hodkinson digging into the challenges of soil health.

Both Bill Gray, farm manager at Prestonhall Farms and Peter Eccles, farm manager at Saughland Farm, are both keen to improve the health and structure of their soils over the course of the Monitor Farm Scotland project.

With 660 hectares of cereals and oilseeds at Prestonhall Bill Gray is most interested in the nutrient status of the soil, as well as assessing compaction.

He says: “Soil is the most important resource we have on farm and we need to make the most of it. As our arable land is cultivated regularly we need to identify if and where we are creating compaction, which will of course impact negatively on the crop’s root structure. I’d also like to have a closer look at our nutrient levels, not just the traditional pH, P and K and Mg but other nutrients such as calcium which have an effect on soil workability.”

Peter Eccles at Saughland, having recently purchased an additional 500 Romney ewes with easy care lambs, is focused on ensuring his soil is capable of producing enough grass to feed his 2,250 strong flock.

He says:  “Livestock health and performance is intricately linked to the health of the land they live on so we must have a better understanding of what is going on within our soils. Similarly, as we are increasing our stocking rate we need to ensure we have enough grass to go round, and that begins with getting soil health right.

“We have previously taken a fairly traditional approach to soil management, sampling every five or six years, but can we go another step further? Replacing offtakes of P and K following cuts of hay and silage is vital to ensure we don't deplete nutrients as we increasingly look to clovers in the sward to fix nitrogen for us.”

Soil samples from both farms will be analysed before the event, with results shared on the day. Attendees will be able to view the soils for themselves and discuss a wide range of topics with Mark including nutrient status, soil structure and fertility.

There will also be a range of other discussions on the day. For the livestock farmers present Peter will be looking for advice on land carrying capacity, forage budgets and wintering plans, while Bill will be canvassing arable growers on grain storage options, as he is keen to have new system in place for next year’s harvest.

Cover crops will be a focus for both groups as it is a key part of the initial collaboration work between Prestonhall and Saughland. The group will discuss options for a cover crop which can go in at Prestonhall, and then be used to feed Saughland’s sheep over the winter months.

The Lothians Monitor Farm is one of nine Monitor Farms recently established across Scotland in a joint initiative by AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS). The aim of the programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses. 

The Lothians Monitor Farm meeting will begin with tea and coffee at 9.30am on Wednesday 19 July at Saughland Farm, Pathhead, Midlothian, EH37 5XP. The meeting will finish at 2.30pm. The event is free of charge but to assist with catering it would be appreciated if you can book a place by contacting Colin MacPhail on 07747 046461 or at colin@macphailconsulting.co.uk.