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Onwards and upwards: Lothians Monitor Farm moves on after tough season

Bill Gray and Peter Eccles

Farmers will get the chance to compare notes on an extremely challenging season, as well as finding out how their local monitor farm coped, at the coming Lothians Monitor Farm meeting on 23 May.

Project facilitator Colin MacPhail explains: “We see the whole day as chance to catch up after a really difficult period for the livestock and arable farmers. We’ll look back over what the farms have been doing over the winter and spring months, and find out what the plans are for this season.”

For Lothians Monitor Farmer Bill Gray the meeting is a good chance to find how the wider group is dealing with the issues he is currently facing, such as late drilling of winter and spring crops.

He says: “We are dealing with problems that began back in the autumn when our winter barley was established three weeks later than usual in mid-October, and some of our winter wheat wasn’t sown until early in November into poor seedbed conditions

“Ideally after such a late start we would have been hoping for a kind winter, followed by an early spring, but of course we got quite the opposite.

“While some of the crops seem to be doing fine despite the difficulties, some fields are clearly struggling and that means we need to make some difficult decisions about adjusting inputs – including possibly limiting nitrogen applications

“It’s a really delicate balance. The aim is to match nitrogen use to the yield that we are potentially able to produce, so if that yield potential is low we look to adjust inputs. However, that means we need to judge the crop’s potential as accurately as possible, which isn’t straightforward. It would be all too easy to reduce too far and not reach what potential we have.”

Lothians Monitor Farmer Peter Eccles, who manages the farm neighbouring Bill’s, has also had a tough season, although his focus is on livestock.

He says: “In some ways we were fortunate as we didn’t start lambing until 10 April, after the snows. However, the ewes weren’t in as good condition as we would have liked, although we did try to minimise condition loss through hard feeding over February and March.

“I think this has led to lower quality colostrum with a number of joint ill cases in lambs, something they have never suffered from before in our outdoor system.”

On the cattle side the situation has been far rosier, with an excellent calving period, but of course feed costs have increased significantly.

“We’ve had to buy in a lot of additional feed and bedding this year,” Peter explains. “The stock have endured a particularly harsh winter yet we have come through it and our contingency plans have held firm and we are now able to enjoy the better spell of weather.”

As well as hearing detailed updates from Bill and Peter, the group will tour the arable fields, discussing the challenges of the coming season with Bill and agronomist David Paul. In the afternoon there will be market updates on both the livestock and arable sectors.

The final part of the day will focus on Saughland’s livestock with tours of the cattle and sheep and the group will discuss sheep to cattle ratios, sheep and cattle performance, grass growth and management as well as the farm’s marketing policy.

The Lothians Monitor farm – a partnership between neighbouring farms Saughland and Prestonhall – is one of nine monitor farms established in Scotland as part of a joint initiative by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds with funding from the Scottish Government. The aim of the monitor farm programme is to help improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of Scottish farm businesses.

The meeting on 23 May will be start at Prestonhall Farms, Rosemains, all are welcome and the event is free. Tea and coffee will be available from 10am and lunch will be provided, however for catering purposes those interested in coming along on 23rd May should confirm attendance with Colin MacPhail on 07747 046461 or at colin@macphailconsulting.co.uk. The meeting is expected to finish by 3pm.

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit www.monitorfarms.co.uk.