Soil Health Under the Spotlight at Sutherland Monitor Farm

The importance of maximising soil health to boost grass production will be the focus of the next meeting of the Sutherland Monitor Farm on Tuesday 13th March.

At the meeting, which will be held at Clynelish Farm near Brora, Mark Hodkinson, a leading soil specialist, will explain the properties that make up good soil. He will also outline ways in which livestock farmers can improve their own soil management and nutrition in order to maximise grass production and animal health. 

Clynelish Farm is a 125-hectare farm run by Jason Ballantyne and his wife Vic, in partnership with Jason’s dad Murdo. The family also have 32 hectares of seasonal grazing locally and contract farm 230 North Country Cheviot ewes at a sheep  stock club two miles away, which graze on 34 hectares of in-bye and hill.  

The farm produces all its own hay and silage and all stock are almost entirely forage fed. The Ballantynes recognise that healthy, fertile soil is vital in order to maximise yields.

“We are really looking forward to hearing the insights of Mark Hodkinson from Soils4Life on our soil at Clynelish,” said Jason Ballantyne.

“We, like all livestock farmers, need our soil to be as healthy and fertile as possible in order to grow the best grass we can to get optimal stock performance. Hopefully Mark will provide an insight into how we can manage and improve our soil to help us achieve that.”

The family have 670 ewes of their own and 75 suckler cows, including 11 heifers, and both enterprises are operated on low-cost forage systems. The native cross cows are currently outwintered on straw and silage. All calves are weaned at five-and-a-half months and grow well despite not receiving any creep feed. They are sold at Thainstone at nine-and-a-half months averaging 343kg.

Although Jason and Vic Ballantyne are happy with the return they are currently seeing, they are keen to try and improve efficiencies where they can, so are open to suggestions from the monitor farm group. The couple will lead a breakout session at the meeting to discuss whether they should consider changing their current system. They will also share their recent scanning results and give an update on the farm since their last meeting in January.

Clynelish Farm 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 at Clynelish Farm on Tuesday 13th March,  is free to attend and open to all, will begin at 11am, with coffee and registration from 10.30am. Lunch is included.

Farmers interested in attending the next Sutherland Monitor farm meeting should confirm attendance with the facilitators Willie Budge or Cat MacGregor by phoning SAC Thurso on 01847 892602 or emailing

For more information about the monitor farm programme visit