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Lochaber Farmers Share “Test my Vest” Soil Results

A range of very illuminating results of some “test my vest” soil trials were shared at the recent Lochaber Monitor Farm meeting.

Back in June members of the Monitor Farm community group buried their cotton vests in order to investigate soil quality on farms in the area

Six of the community group members brought what was left of the vests they had buried to the meeting, as well as a sample of the soil that the vests were buried in. Soil analysis was carried out on the samples from each trial and soil expert Bill Crooks of SRUC examined the soil plugs leading a fascinating discussion on soil structure and texture.

The results highlighted low potash in some soils and addressing this will be a focus for a future meeting. Potash is important for photosynthesis and is particularly important for maintaining good clover content. Soil magnesium levels were also low in many of the samples and in grassland systems this can be an animal health concern.

Another problem area identified and discussed at the meeting was the wide variation in pH levels, with some samples as low as 4.7, well below target levels.

Mr Crooks emphasised the need for those with pH levels below 5.5 to focus on increasing the pH level in their soil via lime application as a priority.

“There are many other factors which impact soil quality including moisture, temperature, soil type and texture,” he said.

“Farmers looking to improve their soil quality should not rely solely on the soil analysis results they receive. There is also a need to ensure they have a fertiliser management plan in place first and then soil testing can be used to make sure it is effective 

The wet summer in Lochaber has meant host farmer Chris Cameron and his father Malcolm had to graze a reseeded field which had been scheduled to be cut for silage. 

However, despite not getting a cut from this field, the Camerons were still relatively pleased with the grass quality at Strone, and approximately 60 more bales were made this year compared to 2016. 

This, they explained, was a result of ewes moving to their summer grazing in Inverness a couple of weeks earlier than the previous year giving the grass at home the opportunity for some extra growth during these weeks.

Chris Cameron also updated the community group on a collaboration they have been involved in with fellow monitor farmers from Angus - the Stodart family. 

A total of 250 of their wedder lambs, weighing between 32-33kg, were sold to Mill of Inverarity, the Angus Monitor Farm, at the end of August. The lambs will be finished in Angus with the aim to have them finished and sold before Christmas after which the data will be shared between both farms. 

“This was a great opportunity to get involved with other monitor farms in the programme and help each other out.  Sharing the data will let us see how well our lambs have performed once sold and give us facts and figures to help make decisions for the future - something we are currently lacking,” said Chris Cameron.

The Lochaber Monitor Farm is one of nine monitor farms that have been established across Scotland in a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The next Lochaber Monitor Farm meeting will be held on 16 November 2017 when the focus will move to winter rationing and housing stock during the winter months.

To book your attendance (and lunch!) please contact the project facilitators Niall Campbell and Morven McArthur, SAC consulting, Oban on 01631 563093 or email fbsoban@sac.co.uk.