Soil science underpins steady expansion policy

22 February 2002

Soil science underpins steady expansion policy

Continuing our series profiling farmers

weeklys barometer farms for 2002,

Andrew Blake pays a visit to Angus

SLOW but steady expansion using precision farming-style techniques to get the best from some variable soil types is Robert Ramsays immediate aim for the family farm at West Mains of Kinblethmont, which he runs with the help of his father Robert and wife Jessica.

The 570ha (1400 acre) all-arable unit just inland from Arbroath was joined four years ago by 80ha (200 acres) of similar land just into England near Berwick.

"Our main soils here in Angus are sandy silty loams of the Balrownie series," says Mr Ramsay. "They are generally easy working, but they range in depth from 30-70cm and there is a hard boulder clay layer below, which water and roots find hard to penetrate.

"That means the land very quickly gets too wet in the autumn and our shallower fields often suffer drought in summer. Our cereal yields can vary dramatically. With second wheats we have been down as low as 5t/ha, but we have had Siberia winter barley up to 13t/ha.

"It all depends so much on conditions at the back end and in summer."

Most of the land on the home farm is drained, some with a traditional stone-walled system. "Our biggest problem is oilseed rape roots, which tend to block the slots in modern Wavinflex plastic pipes."

Yield mapping and on-the-move variable fertiliser application, backed by solid agronomy information from SAC/Scottish Agronomy farmer group meetings with Allen Scobie, are key inputs.

"I dont like calling it precision farming," says BASIS-qualified Mr Ramsay. "All we are trying to do is to put a bit more science into our decision making."

Main crops are winter and spring barley, mostly for seed, wheat mainly for feed and industrial HEAR oilseed rape on set-aside. "The wheat is all Consort with a bit of Malacca, which we sold for a small premium last year. Im trying it again, but not holding my breath."

The best paying crop is probably potatoes grown for seed by neighbouring farmers, he admits. "Id like to grow them myself, but I am not sure that I could compete with the experts nearby. Besides, I wouldnt appreciate the hassle or the capital investment because I want to spend some time with my family."

Strong demand for good potato growing land in the area was a prime reason for looking south to expand, he adds.

Lesser crops in the normal six-crop rotation, include vining peas with carrots occasionally grown by others. But closure of several processing outlets casts a shadow over their future viability. "This year we are trying a few pulses for seed as a look-see alternative break."

Kinblethmont cropping

Winter barley 106ha

Potatoes (let) 85ha

Winter wheat 84ha

Winter oilseed rape 60ha

Spring barley 60ha

Vining peas 36ha

Peas and beans 14ha

Set-aside 15ha

Machinery has a modern look

MACHINERY at the home farm, based on an 18m tramline system, includes a GPS-linked KRM variable rate fertiliser spreader and Berthoud fully-mounted sprayer.

Ploughing is the norm, but min-till establishment opportunities are taken where appropriate, such as after winter barley for oilseed rape and after potatoes for wheat. "We have a 3m Vaderstad seed-only drill which is very versatile."

Cereal drilling, first with barley, generally starts in early September at about 200 seeds/sq m. Slugs are rarely troublesome, but rates rise substantially for later sowings. "We go up to 500 seed/sq m for November wheat."

Sterile brome, to some extent alleviated by recently introduced Countryside Premium Scheme cocksfoot field margins, and black bent are the main weed threats.

The farm relies on a 22ft cut MF40 combine to supply the 16t/hour Carier continuous flow drier. But it has not been without its troubles, says Mr Ramsay. "It was in its fourth season last year and blew the turbo."

The SQC-registered farm has four 230t ventilated silos and various floor stores. A grader and new de-awner have eased the seed growing side of production, especially with hard-to-thrash Siberia, says Neil Lawson, combine driver and the farms only full-time non-family employee.

All fieldwork on the Berwick unit is carried out by contractor.

In the business of soil expertise

ROBERT Ramsay is a partner in a company launched in 2000 with two fellow farmers. Soilessentials was set up to help farms with the fundamentals of yield mapping and other soil related aspects.

"We have retro-fitted a lot of combine yield meters and we provide a complete package including variable spreading systems.

"In Northern Ireland we are also the official partner with DARD in a five-year precision demonstration project." &#42

Chemical inputs and output

Allchemical inputs, apart from fertilisers, are bought on quote from several sources, with Mr Ramsay helping co-ordinate quotes on the needs of 15 local farms in a loose buying group. Apart from his seed crops, most grain goes to the United Cereals of Scotland co-op.

See more