WITH BREXIT looming and input costs set to rise as a result, plus Basic Payments becoming more uncertain, it’s going to be hard to be able to secure a reasonable net return on a regular basis in any farming enterprise without careful planning.
For arable farmers, who have had the good and the bad in recent years for their end products, it’s going to need careful management of inputs to make the difference, according to the manager of one of the biggest spring barley growers on the Moray Coast.
“The results of Brexit have certainly come at a cost when you see the increase of basic inputs like fuel and fertiliser.
“It’s no secret to say that we rely on subsidises to supplement our income and that makes the whole job very uncertain ”, said Mike Shand, who took over the role as farm manager last January, at Old Cullen Farms – a 4910-acre coastal arable unit in the north-east, farmed in partnership by the Seafield family, which sees land stretch from Boyndie to Buckie.

The Scottish Farmer:
Although the future seems undoubtedly risky, the keys to success are scale and the use of a simple, tried and tested system has proved itself over a number of years. It’s been designed and planned to fit the local range of soils and climate and it seems to have proved extremely reliable for them.
Like the majority of North-east arable producers, it’s spring barley which is the biggest contributor to the business, with a total of 2200 acres all grown for the malting market.
This is all sold on a forward contract system through Banff and Moray Grain Group, and then marketed through grain merchant – WN Lindsay – with the end product going locally to Glenlivet Distillery.
As well as that, 500 acres of winter barley, 900 acres of winter wheat and 550 acres of oilseed rape are grown too. The OSR is mainly sold to Frontier, with feed barley and wheat either sold to Frontier or Lindsays.
“We consider spring barley to be our most successful crop here, as we’re able to grow a large amount due to its lower input costs compared to other crops.
“The fact that we are growing it on early maturing ground and lucky to be working in an area with generally better weather, results in us being able to get it all away fairly early”, commented Mike, who works alongside three other tractor men/general farm workers, as well as three additional seasonal staff during harvest.

The Scottish Farmer:
It’s no surprise that the ever popular Concerto is the variety of choice and it has been grown across all the spring barley acres for the last six years. According to Mike, that’s due to its consistency of yields and its full approval for brewing and malt distilling and in this district the end user is ‘king’.
Growing such a large amount of the same variety comes with advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, storage can be simplified and there is no pressure to shift or re-arrange large tonnages of barley.
However, the downside is that in terms of yield and other agronomic factors, Concerto is becoming pretty outclassed, so, like every other grower, Mike waits for the next ‘great white hope’ of spring barleys to appear.
One such, Laureate, is beginning to get a following and could well become part of the equation at Old Cullen Farms next spring.
Spring barley is sown at a seeding rate of 425 seeds per square metre which works out at 200-210kg/ha, using either a 6m or 4m Lemken drill, with fertiliser also placed with the drill at a rate of 325kg/ha of 8/24/24 – a fertiliser mix which suits the sandy loam of the area.
Crops are top dressed as soon as emergence is visible, with a further 80 units of liquid fertiliser applied. The farms’ two sprayers have been changed from 24m to 36m, to allow spraying to be done more efficiently and now are fitted with an automatic shut off system, resulting in a huge reduction in over-lapping at headlands via GPS.
All spring barley is usually sprayed twice, with each application getting 1 litre of Bravo. The first tank mix is at growth stage 21, and is made up of 80g/ha of Mozaic, 1 litre/ha of Foundation (a weed killer), 7 litres/ha of Mansul (a manganese and sulphur mix), and 0.4 litres of Proline.
A simpler second application, three weeks after, at about growth stage 39, is formed of Bravo and 0.35 litres Siltra.
With clubroot being an increasing problem in oilseed rape crops across Aberdeenshire and the North, lengthening the rotation at Old Cullen Farms seems to be the most sustainable long-term strategy for managing the disease, pointed out Mike.
He’s working a rotation of winter barley, oilseed rape, winter wheat and then spring barley for three years.

The Scottish Farmer:
Due to the costly sum of inputs, including the buying in of new seed every year, income is aided by renting out 400 acres of grassland on ground which isn’t suitable for growing crops, as well as a further 140 acres rented for carrots and tatties.
Running a solely arable enterprise with no livestock can come at a cost as Mike tries to source enough locally produced farmyard manure to cover around 600 acres each year.
However, the farm usually chops straw, putting organic matter back into the soil. There’s also a system in place whereby local livestock farmers get the straw in the bout and then provide the resulting manure.
Precision farming techniques have set quality parameters for the team too, with soil sampling done through SOYL, where a GPS system allows three samples to be taken in every hectare, showing PH levels, as well as P and K.
“A lot of the fields here range from 100-150 acres due to having previously been smaller fields and then made into one big field to allow large modern machinery to work to their full capacity. Although it’s good to work more efficiently, it means some of the fields include a variety of soil types, so it’s handy to pinpoint problem areas with soil maps.”

The Scottish Farmer:
Variable rate lime and potash is done through the KRM fertiliser spreader which includes weight cells to ensure that spreading is more precise.
“Before soil samples were made, we were applying as much as 2 tonne/acre of lime but with the use of maps we have saved on costs drastically, allowing fertiliser to be spread more evenly and with better targetting,” commented Mike.
Fitted to the Claas Lexion 780 combine – which was upgraded two years ago – is the Claas Telematics programme which is also proving benefits.
As well as monitoring yield, moisture, combine settings and performance, this means the mechanics can also be monitored for any problems.
The combine performance can be monitored at all times –  and not just by the driver – with all data being displayed on smartphones and computers.
So while the future might not be too clear for arable growers, for units with the size and scale of Old Cullen Farms, there are opportunities to tweak the management to minimise the effects of rising costs.
With that in mind, it’s very much hoped that new varieties, like Laureate, will have a major role to play in adding yield at reduced fungicide costs for growers, pointed out Mike.