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James Bretherton from AgScope Ltd

Improving pasture productivity through soil management will be the subject of the next Sutherland Monitor Farm meeting on Wednesday 13th February.

At the meeting, which is being held at Brora Golf Club, cattle nutritionist and soil specialist James Bretherton from Agscope Ltd will outline some of the ways to assess soil structure and health to help enhance its productivity.

“It’s important to appreciate that your farm’s soil is a living environment,” said Mr Bretherton.

“Livestock farmers know that to maximise production and efficiency from their livestock, the stock needs to be healthy. It’s the same with soil; for good grass and crops, the soil must be healthy and well structured.” 

The physical structure of a ‘’good’’ soil, he explained, is typically 45% mineral, 25% water, 25% air and 5% organic matter and should have a target pH value of between 5.9 and 6.5. 

As well as sharing tips to help farmers manage the pH, structure and health of their soils to boost pasture production, Mr Bretherton will explain how to interpret results of both laboratory and physical assessments so producers can develop an action plan to improve their own soil productivity. 

Mr Bretherton will also run a ‘’Soil Clinic’’ as part of the meeting on 13th February, where he will give a free physical assessment of soil samples brought by attendees who are keen to learn more about the soil health on their own farm.

Sutherland monitor farmers Jason and Vic Ballantyne from Clynelish farm run 900 breeding ewes and 80 suckler cows over 125 hectares. They are looking forward to hearing how they, and other farmers and crofters in the area, can interpret the results of soil tests and make some positive changes to soil management on their own farms to improve soil health and productivity and support pasture growth.

“We regularly soil test and are always amazed at the variation across the farm,” said Jason Ballantyne.

He added: “We are also astonished at how quickly lime and pH depletes at Clynelish. We spread a huge amount of lime across the farm about five years ago to raise soil pH and saw an immediate increase in grass growth.

“We've continued to top up lime applications since but following the soil samples taken last month we have just ordered 160 tonnes of lime to try and raise soil pH to 6.2 with the aim of supporting the optimum growth or grass, as well as the swedes and fodder beet crops that will be going in later in the year,” said Mr Ballantyne

“Another issue we have in some of the fields at Clynelish is soil compaction and we look forward to James’ analysis and advice on the best way to remedy this,” said Vic Ballantyne.

“We are also really interested in the mineral analysis and what options we have for addressing deficiencies,” she added. 

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 the Brora Golf Club on Wednesday 13th February is free to attend and open to all. It 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 fbsthurso@sac.co.uk.

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