18 January 2002

Winning ways kind

to the environment

An award-winning Scottish fertiliser user shares

his practical tips for protecting the environment

and cutting costs. Peter Grimshaw reports

ONE or two bright ideas are not enough; if you are serious about reducing fertilisers environmental impact everything must be accounted for.

It is that all-round approach which helped Charlie McCririck, of Bryce McCririck & Sons, Whitmuirhaugh, Sprouston, near Kelso, win the farmers weekly/ Nitram Fertiliser Challenge 2001.

The 236ha (584 acre) farm is mostly arable – mainly winter wheat, but also barley, oilseed rape, oats, potatoes, triticale and peas.

However there are 50 beef sucklers, with calves reared to finishing on 40ha (100 acres) of grass. Their muck is managed with care, stored in dry field areas well away from drains and ditches, and contract-spread under Mr McCriricks watchful eye.

The manures value is based on the Scottish Agricultural College fertiliser handbook, and mucked fields are chosen to maintain nutrient indices across the farm.

That is harder than it sounds, because soil type varies hugely from field to field and within fields. So fertiliser rates are determined on the basis of conditions, experience and most of all by soil sampling each field every year, a task Mr McCririck does himself.

Nitrogen applications for wheat are split three ways. "I consider the key growing times, allowing for plant count, weather and ground conditions, the need to boost or hold back the crop, FYM use and target protein content," he says.

The cornerstone of his fertiliser management is a Horstine Farmery Cascade pneumatic spreader. "Inherently it is a very accurate machine not affected by windy conditions, unlike a spinning disc model." Its calibration hopper is used to set application rates.

A headland deflector plate keeps fertiliser in crops and out of hedges. "You cannot do this with a spinning disc, despite what manufacturers may say," says Mr McCririck.

Fertiliser is stored under cover, on concrete, with boarded side protection. Any spillage is swept up and used in his garden, where he claims to grow excellent leeks.

Bags are disposed of in a purpose-built incinerator opening at the front for cleaning. With ample air intake for hot, smoke-free burning it was built from scrap steel after the local collection scheme collapsed when its government grant was withdrawn.

Rumours of a national recovery system encouraged him to save the bags for a while, but now all are burned leaving almost negligible ash.

As local Lantra chairman, Mr McCririck is fully aware of the importance of operator training for economical and environmentally sound use of resources.

"I have done the practical course on calibration and care of the machine, and also the BASIS-linked farmers course.

"It is all about awareness, taking a couple of moments to think about what you are doing. &#42

Could I do better? That is Charlie McCriricks constant query in seeking to maximise returns from his fertiliser investment while caring for the environment on his Scottish farm.

&#8226 Careful muck management.

&#8226 Regular soil sampling.

&#8226 Pneumatic spreader + deflector.

&#8226 Searching for improvement.