By Rachel Young

Winter crops are looking well on the Black Isle with January having had long periods of dry mild weather, followed by nearly a week of hard frost, a little snow and some rain.

We have selected and entered our crops/fields for this year’s Yield Enhancement Network competitions and have chosen a field of Zulu winter wheat drilled on September 21 and a field of, obviously yet to be drilled, Diablo spring barley for our barley entry. Nufarm are sponsoring our wheat entry, and YARA are sponsoring our spring barley entry – the first time we have entered this section in the YEN competition, having been egged on by the rest of the members of the Scottish group.

Both Dad and I attended our local arable business group benchmarking meeting in the middle of the month. The exercise of benchmarking was invaluable, as it always is, and really brought to our attention things we can improve on compared to other growers, and also highlighted to us things we are doing well and need to maintain. As a young farmer I think benchmarking is one of the most useful things I can do, and sharing those figures and having discussions with other people with many years of experience in agricultural is great – I certainly took a lot of points away from the meeting.

January saw us take delivery of our new KRM 35M fertiliser spreader. The spreader has weigh cells, section control and auto-shut off which should make it easier to operate – a fair upgrade from our 18-year-old Amazon. When we bought the spreader we thought all we needed was a cable to connect the KRM box to the Trimble GPS box but alas, the little cable is not the issue, it’s the cost of the unlock codes which we hadn’t factored in, with the total cost of connecting it up being around £2000.

We are also toying with the idea of starting to use Calcifert at variable rate with the new spreader. At the moment we GPS sample and spread ground limestone on fields once every five years. As we have been doing this for the last six years we are now starting to re-sample fields and are finding the pH’s seem to be at a reasonable level, with most of the re-tested fields sitting between a pH of 6-6.3, and our target being 6.4.

Our agronomist is suggesting we move to using Calcifert and sample and spread once every three years, meaning we will be checking the soil condition more regularly and will be more frequently spreading a lesser amount of a more soluble lime product, with the aim being to keep the pH at a more consistent level rather than having peaks and troughs over a five year period.

However, our hesitation lies in that we have heard very mixed reports about the longevity of Calcifert with lots of people reporting it only stays in the soil for a year, some saying it lasts two, and a few saying it lasts three? There is also the obvious increased cost of more regular soil sampling which certainly isn’t cheap, and though we would no longer need to pay a contractor to spread the lime, it wouldn't cost nothing to spread it either.

We may try a few fields with the calcifert and re-sample them yearly to see if the calcifert is having a lasting effect, rather than moving over to using it completely.

We also finally bought a new 16t root/grain trailer and went for a Broughan after a few people recommended them as being good quality but slightly less expensive than some of the bigger brands. It will probably arrive before we start lifting carrots, but if not the old Larrington will need to step up once again.