11 December 1998

Scottish move provides a new set of challenges

By Andrew Blake

MOVING to Scotland is providing a fresh farming challenge for a former Shropshire arable farmer.

This years late Scottish harvest re-emphasises the differences between farming north and south of the border, says David Richards of Craigend Farm, Methven, Perth & Kinross.

Late sowing, tight spray windows and slow ripening crops are all features rarely encountered at Hinnington Grange, Shifnal, which he sold in May 1995 in order to farm a larger area elsewhere.

"It is obviously wetter up here," says Mr Richards. Annual rainfall on the 150ha (371 acres) he now runs is about 180mm (7in) more than on his southern unit.

"In Shropshire we could often drill in January. Up here we could not start this year until March. At Hinnington we hardly ever had to dry corn. This year there is little that has not had to be dried here. You do not know you have been born down south until you come here.

"Machinery is a lot dearer," he adds. On the plus side, easy access to nearby ports and local distilling outlets means grain transport costs are less than they were in Shropshire.

Soil type is very different. "In Shropshire we were mostly on sand and I could follow the plough immediately. Here it is mainly heavy to medium loam and I have to wait at least a day. It is also a lot stonier. With clay in the bottom you cant force it; you have to wait until it is dry. Frost mould is very useful."

Main cropping difference is on the cereal side. "I had never grown spring barley before. Now at 149 acres it is our main crop and it has brought quite a learning curve." Up to now he has followed local convention by applying base fertiliser with the seed from a front mounted hopper feeding his Lely power harrow combination drill. But with SAC soil analyses showing reasonable phosphate and potash indices that practice may be reviewed next year.

For the moment he is content to stick with an apparently high seed rate based on local knowledge. "We use 1.75cwt/acre. I am prepared to live with the expense of what may turn out to be an over-thick crop. I always prefer to have a reasonable plant stand. You cant put it back once it has gone."

Malting spring barley, last season Chariot and Maresi, at 5.6t/ha (2.25t/acre) remains competitive with other potential farm crops. That is mainly because of its low variable costs, he says. At £140/ha (£57/acre) using his own seed they were less than half those for Riband winter wheat which averaged 8.2t/ha (3.3t/acre).

But Mr Richards has been keen to introduce more break crops. Last season he grew 16ha (40 acres) of vining peas for the first time for Carse of Gowrie Growers. Winter rape also accounted for 21ha (53 acres).

"I feel it is good to have breaks here or we could end up robbing the land." Oats are shunned for fear of admixture in other cereals, he says. "But I am still learning. And if the rotation is not right I will change." &#42

MOVETO SCOTLAND

&#8226 Wetter land & later harvest.

&#8226 Fewer good spray windows.

&#8226 Spring barley learning curve.

&#8226 Break crop drive for fertility.