14 June 2002

Malts focus on hosts unit

BARLEY dominates cropping at East Fingask, near Oldmeldrum in Aberdeenshire, where Royal Northern Crops and the Environment event host William Ritch farms in partnership with his father, George.

Two-thirds of the 212ha (525 acres) of arable is down to spring barley and a further 40ha (100 acres) is in winter varieties. All the spring crop is Optic grown for local distilling markets.

"Our philosophy is focus, and in the cropping that means malting barley," says William. "We have a defined output, whisky, which is known the world over and is something to be proud of."

He has a similar approach with his 80-strong Aberdeen-Angus cross suckler herd and bought-in store lambs.

Winter barley varieties are Pastoral and Angela which are sold to a local pig farmer for feed. Straw is part used by the suckler herd and the rest sold in the swath to regular customers.

This year wheat is making a cameo appearance in the rotation with 15ha (35 acres) of Riband. "We are only growing it because of the crop event. There will be none next year and we are even thinking of cutting out the winter barley," he says.

Marketing is through Scotgrain, consistent testing and reliably rapid collection at harvest being key factors in the decision to commit nearly 100% to them.

"We have storage but it is not nearly enough for our total production. The winter barley has to be all away before we start on spring barley."

Mr Ritch does all his own agronomy. "I build on past experience and get a lot of advice from farmers weekly, which keeps me up to date. Besides, crop walking is one of the few jobs on the farm where one can hear the birds singing these days," he says.

Yields of spring barley, all Optic for the past three years, average 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) with strobilurins proving a big help in achieving the sub 1.55% nitrogen content.

"When we first used them on Prisma we had lower nitrogens than we ever thought possible – before we always struggled to get under 1.7%. Now we hardly ever miss out on nitrogen."

But wet weather at harvest can wreak havoc with quality, as it did last year, causing splitting and fusarium. "I have never seen anything like it. We only got 70 acres away for malting – the previous year we got 400t away for malting with only one load above 1.55% nitrogen."

Fertiliser rates have been increased under the Optic and strobilurin regime too. "Now we are using 100 units/acre on the spring barley, in the 1980s it was only 60 units/acre."

As a rule a belt and braces fungicide regime is used to keep rhynchosporium and mildew at bay with this years winter barley getting Radius (cyproconazole + cyprodinil) pre-T1 and again at GS31 with Twist (trifloxystrobin) added. Sphere (trifloxystrobin + cyproconazole) was used at flag leaf/awns emerging.

Optic would normally receive a similar programme, the first application being made at 3-5 leaves. But this years exceptionally dry spring allowed the first spray to be left until GS31 when Radius went on, to be followed by Acanto (picoxystrobin) and Corbel (fenpropimorph) at flag leaf.

Spring barley is sown as early in March as possible, however Mr Ritch does not like to be the first in the area for fear crows will lock onto his fields. Equally, it pays not to be the last by too much either, he notes.

Winter barley must be drilled before the end of September and may even be sown in late August if waiting for spring barley to ripen, he notes.

"If it does not tiller well in the autumn it will produce late tillers in the spring that are more like a spring barley crop."

The farm has one employee besides Mr Ritch and his father and all operations bar lime spreading are kept in house. Machinery is worked hard on a "replace when worn-out" policy.

The two main tractors, a New Holland 8360 and a TM115, do 1000 and 800hours a year, respectively, supported by a JCB 520-50 loader and ancient Ford 4600. The combine is a New Holland 8070 bought second-hand for harvest 1994. &#42

HOSTFARM

&#8226 212ha arable out of 300ha (750 acres) farmed.

&#8226 Spring barley for malt main crop.

&#8226 Father, son and one employee.

&#8226 All own machinery and labour.

&#8226 Largest block of grade 2 land in Aberdeenshire.