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Family’s Focus on Soil Health Pays Dividends

An Angus family who were early adopters of soil health principles now sing the praises of the latest precision equipment which they say has not only improved their farm, but led to major savings in time and fuel.

Gordon, Tracey and Andrew Beattie farm 950 acres across four farms from their base at Tullywhanland, Forfar, where they grow 750 acres of combinable crops and grass and let out around 200 acres annually to local growers.

Gordon says his focus on soil began in 2004 when he heard SoilEssentials director Jim Wilson speak about the importance of soil sampling.

“I spoke to my dad – who has always, even now at 80, been keen to embrace best practice – and we decided to start sampling,” he said.

“It was amazing the differences, particularly in pH levels in soils across the farms and even in the same fields.  I suppose that makes sense as today’s big open fields would once have been smaller 10 or 15-acre parcels, probably broken up like that for a reason.”

Maintaining soil health has meant adapting to changing circumstances.

Gordon said: “We used to have a contract to remove chicken litter which was then spread on two farms, in order to keep organic matter levels up.  When that contract ended we were looking for a new solution and this eventually led to the introduction of the pig enterprise last year.”

These says the fields are sampled when they are destined for vegetables or potatoes and some fields have been sampled three times over the last 15 years, which Gordon says has led to a reduction each year in the quantity of lime required to achieve optimum pH levels.

Once hooked on precision equipment the Beatties invested in GPS guidance with the installation of a Trimble FMX unit.

“Four years ago we started applying liquid fertiliser instead of solids,” said Gordon.

“With the Trimble system taking care of the tractor guidance we can also concentrate on making sure the machine on the back is working properly in all parts of the field.

“Even soil conditions, even cultivations and even fertiliser applications lead to even crops, which is important to attract premium prices.

“Good tractor drivers have always taken pride in their work and in ensuring nice straight furrows, rows and tramlines because it’s the most efficient way of doing things.

“But the human eye can’t keep as straight a line all day every day as a satellite signal.

“Plus the human eye can’t accurately tell you the chemical make-up of your soils.”

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