Pioneer of assurance depends on contracts
MALTSTERS have rejected only one load of barley from Sweethope, Kelso, Roxburghshire, in nine years.
That was a telling point with the judges when they visited David Fuller-Shapcott, whose field of spring barley reached the Scottish final by the narrowest of margins in a keen contest.
His determination to grow for value-added markets and a dedicated approach to farm assurance also impressed.
Sweethope was the first unit given unconditional acceptance for farm assurance by Scottish Quality Cereals.
The 243ha (600-acre) farms 184ha (454 acres) of arable is in a six-year rotation of oilseeds, two wheats, and three barleys (two spring, one winter).
Mr Fuller-Shapcotts marketing philosophy is simple – do not begin to grow a crop unless it has been sold. "That is the approach you would have to take in any other manufacturing industry and there is no reason why farming should be different. We have contracts for almost everything – from C1 Prisma seed grain to malting barley and distilling wheat," he says.
Close contact with main contract buyer McCreath Simpson and Prentice of Berwick is seen as vital. "We have regular discussions with MSP about varieties, moisture, nitrogen, screenings and so on. We know what they want, including farm assurance, and that is what we try to deliver," he says.
Starting point for a good malting barley crop is slow, careful winter ploughing after sheep have cleaned up the stubble, he maintains. "I start in late October and finish by Christmas. That allows the weather time to break down the soil. We take care of soil structure by not rushing into spring cultivation, never sowing before Mar 15."
He likes all the nitrogen to be on by the end of March and some is combine drilled. "It is a rare practice in this area. But we think it gives us early even germination and a long growing season to utilise all available nitrogen without risking malting standards." Average yield in the past two years has been 6.2t/ha (2.5t/acre) with a mean grain N of 1.5%.
Growth promoter Redicrop is applied to increase grain size and help use up available nitrogen. Chemicals advice comes from Frank Lynch of Crop Services (Scotland). "He walked the fields before we came here nine years ago and knows what to expect."
The competition crop of 8.7ha (21.5 acres) of Panoctine (guazatine)-dressed Chariot on clay loam was drilled at 180kg/ha (160lb/acre). It received 244kg/ha (2cwt/acre) of 17:17:17 compound fertiliser at sowing and 308kg/ha (2.5cwt/acre) of 22:0:15:17(S) as a March top dressing. Herbicides and Punch C (carbendazim + flusilazole) fungicide at 0.25litres/ha were applied at growth stage 30/31.
While many crops in Scotland were badly lodged by judging day (June 27) those at Sweethope were standing and looking well.n
• Few malting rejections.
• Most crops contracted.
• Farm assurance pioneer.
• Careful ploughing a key.
• Combine drilling strategy.
Spring barley which hardly ever gets rejected encouraged judges Adam Espir of DuPont (left) and Alan Almond of BCE (right) to make Kelso farmer David Fuller-Shapcott a 1997 Barley-to-Beer finalist.