2011 FW Awards winner: Arable Farmer

Colin McGregor

Coldstream Mains, Coldstream, Berwickshire

Winning ways

• High standards and consistency over a large area
• Early adopter of technology
• Key industry influence

Go to any Premiership football ground and you will see an immaculate, uniform covering of grass. It’s the same when you enter Colin McGregor’s fields, with consistent, even crops.

But it’s not just a few hectares; he is achieving this consistency across nearly 3,000ha (7,500 acres) in the Scottish Borders on different soils.

A key ingredient in achieving this is Colin’s use of the latest technology. He was an early adopter of precision farming technology and has been variably applying nitrogen, phosphate, potash and lime for 14 years. Phosphate is applied every two years, potash annually and lime every three to four years.

And it’s paying off with a 40-50% saving in the use of lime. For nitrogen, phosphate and potash, he believes overall usage is the same, but better targeted. “It has helped improve evenness of crops.”

Another part of his precision farming is the use of RTK since 2006 to eliminate overlaps with cultivations, giving accuracy in machine operations to less than 20mm. “This has reduced cultivation costs by nearly £28/ha.”

He is not afraid to try new approaches and was an early pioneer of a one-pass oilseed rape establishment technique, with rape following wheat in the rotation. “This was unheard of in Scotland a few years ago,” says Colin.

The latest kit includes two 7m Simba SL’s with band applicators applying a 20:10:0 NPK liquid fertiliser at 120 litres/ha with seed trickled into the bed further back at 45cm row spacings – it’s his own design.

“A wider row spacing allows deeper podding on the plant, so we can gain extra yield. Last year, our crop averaged 1.85t/acre and since including seed-bed fertiliser, we have seen a difference in establishment.”

Many growers view spring beans as a cheap crop, but Colin gives them all the inputs they need. Aiming for 40 seeds/sq m, his Fuego beans averaged 5.8t/ha last year and was the highest margin crop.

Helped by his wife, Jill, who looks after the accounts, he keeps a firm eye on costs. Profits have grown by 134% since 2007 while expanding the cropping area tenfold, yet still investing in grain drying and storage.

Part of this increased profit is down to restructuring the potato growing side, where the crop is now grown in collaboration with Greenvale AP. “This has taken out much of the risk in growing potatoes,” he says.

Value is added where possible; one-third of the wheat area is grown for milling, feed wheat supplies the high Hagberg fish food market and beans are exported.

A small tonnage of rape goes for cold-pressing and the oil sold to consumers by Borderfields.

Colin implements field wildlife margins, even where there is no funding, and is seeking planning permission for a wind turbine to make the farm largely self-sufficient in electricity, including potato cold storage.
And he still finds time to work with local schools, hosting farm visits through the Royal Highland Education Trust and the Potato Council’s “Grow Your Own Potatoes” project.

Farm facts

• 2,831ha on eight farms
• Mix of family-owned farm, rented and contract farmed
• Seven full-time staff
• Wheat, OSR, potatoes, spring beans and peas

British Sugar LogoSponsor’s View

British Sugar is proud to support UK agriculture and recognise the technical excellence demonstrated by all three arable farmer category finalists
Paul Bee, Agriculture Communications


2011 Farmers Weekly Awards 

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