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Soil and Crop Health Under Spotlight at North Ayrshire Monitor Farm

Ways to improve soil and crop health and to reduce compaction issues will be the focus of the next meeting of the North Ayrshire Monitor Farm on Friday 8 June.

At the meeting, which will be held at Girtridge Farm in Dundonald, Dr Bill Crooks, Soil Specialist from SRUC, Scotland’s Rural College, will explain how soil health influences grass growth, describe the essential soil nutrients and highlight options for improving soil structure.

The meeting will also look at a number of other areas important for soil health, including soil compaction and liming strategies. For host farmer John Howie, these issues are particularly relevant at Girtridge.

“At the beginning of the monitor farm programme we got our soil tested and found that some of our fields are high in Potash however most are very low in pH.”

Girtridge grew 28 hectares of spring barley last year and this year will grow eight hectares of winter barley too, however Mr Howie found that the barley fields in particular need to be limed regularly.  Based on the results of soil tests, he has spread over 72 tonnes of lime so far this year and plans to do more in the coming months.

Also at the meeting next week, Mr Richard Bray, an agronomist from Agrovista, will look at Girtridge’s  spring and winter barley crops and discuss issues such as crop disease, plant density and fungicide treatment options in order to optimise the health and the profitability of the crop.  

The North Ayrshire Monitor farm, like many others around Scotland, has some soil compaction  around gateways and in other sections of grazing land. Options to minimise compaction will be covered by Dr Crooks at the meeting and a range of aeration machinery will be demonstrated to show different ways to open up the soil to improve plant growth and water flow. 

John Howie, North Ayrshire’s monitor farm host, runs a flock of 250 breeding ewes which started lambing at the beginning of April. As well as finishing over 200 cattle each year, Girtridge also runs a small suckler herd of continental cross cows, which started calving on 14 April.

Mr Howie, who farms in partnership with his mother Margaret and sister Mary, will give an update to the group at the meeting on 8 June about how this year’s lambing and calving went.

“Calving went really well this year and we were pleased that none of our cows needed assistance. Lambing was more challenging though due to the weather. Although we didn’t see much snow at Girtridge, the wet, cold weather meant that we unfortunately lost some lambs and ewes after we turned them out. We are also seeing an increased number of mastitis cases in our ewes this year,” said Mr Howie.

The North Ayrshire 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 meeting on 8th June at Girtridge Farm, Dundonald, KA2 9BX will begin at 10.30am. Lunch will be provided, and the meeting is expected to finish by 2.30pm. All are welcome and the event is free.

For catering purposes, those interested in coming along on 8thJune should confirm attendance by calling 01292 525252 or emailing FBSAyr@sac.co.uk

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