FOR THE third time in recent years, Fraser Middleton, of Balbegno, Fettercairn, has been declared the winner of the Royal Northern Agricultural Society’s cereal growing competition.

Fraser's winning crop of Laureate spring barley, which was assessed as a growing crop by judge, Robert Drysdale, of Delab Farm, Monymusk, has lived up to expectations, producing a yield of 3.8 tonnes/acre when combined for the malting market.

Balbegno's winner topped a strong entry of 67 crops from 27 farms in the annual RNAS competition, which is sponsored by Agrii. But, in common with other crops around the North-east, specific weight this year was lower due to the wet summer weather and lack of sunshine, ranging from 61 to 63 kg per hectolitre (HLW) compared with 65 to 76 kg HLW achieved last year by Mr Middleton’s reserve winning crop, with both skinnings and screenings slightly higher at 3 to 8%.

“Overall, the crop has yielded well and we combined it in excellent conditions,” said Fraser. “The grain was coming off the combine at an average moisture of 15.5% which enabled us to deliver direct to DM Carnegie’s grain store straight from the field without the need for drying or double handling.”

Mr Middleton said the convenience of the store was 'worth its weight in gold' to farmers in the Howe o’ the Mearns and paid tribute to Brian Carnegie and his nephew, Derek, who were holding the fort while Derek’s father, Dave, was in the USA to compete in the World Ploughing Championships.

“With higher yields and higher capacity combines and fewer lorries about, moving grain at harvest time is becoming a real problem in some area. Mearns farmers are lucky to have this store on their door-step.”

Mr Middleton, with his father, Jimmy, and son, Scott, specialise in growing cereals on their all-arable unit which extends to 580 acres and comprises Balbegno and nearby Cauldcots. Although there is no stock on the farm, the supply of straw to neighbours in return for farmyard manure ensures fertility is maintained. A seven-year crop rotation is followed, comprising vining peas, three years winter barley to keep the fields clean (sold as seed on contract to McCreath Simpson and Prentice of Berwick), seed potatoes, wheat and spring barley.

This year spring barley has accounted for 230 acres and Laureate is being grown for the second year running to meet the demands of maltsters, and is yielding better than Concerto which has been the favoured variety for maltsters for many years.

Mr Middleton is modest about his success – except when talking to his neighbours and rivals in the yield stakes! – and says he farms in a very traditional way and is doing nothing different to everyone else.

“We have free draining land – it’s not heavy – and we try to plough and sow when conditions are just right,” he said. “We are very fussy about that.”

While some others are adopting one-pass minimum tillage (min till) to reduce costs, Mr Middleton is sticking with the plough to turn over the soil as it is important to him as a seed grower to keep fields weed free.

As such, he is particularly concerned about the loss of Bravo (chlorothalonil), which for more than 50 years has proved a highly effective fungicide for the control of diseases such as septoria and ramularia in cereal crops and is to be banned in the UK from next year.

He is also a member of the farmer’s co-op, Scottish Agronomy, and feels he benefits from regular discussions with fellow growers about the various challenges which they face in growing arable crops.

RNAS runner-up this year is a crop of Propino feed barley from former winner, Alan Grant, of Skillymarno, Strichen, with Sandy Norrie, of Woodside of Wrae, Turriff, taking the winter barley award with Kingsbarn; Green Growers, Cushnie Farm, Auchterless, coming out top for winter wheat with Kerrin; and Ednie Farms, St Fergus, Peterhead, securing top spot for spring oats with Canyon.

Best LFA crop was Diablo spring feed barley from Charles McCombie, Auchincrieve, Knock, Huntly; while Stuart Norrie, Cairnhill, Turriff, took the under 30 award with spring malting barley, also Diablo.

Leading awards

Winter barley – 1, Sandy Norrie; 2, Fraser Middleton; 3, John Forbes and Partners, Slains Park, Kinneff.

Winter wheat – 1, Green Growers; 2, Alan Grant; 3, A J Duncan, Muirden, Turriff.

Spring oats – 1, Ednie Farms; 2, Iain Wilson, Tulloch Farms, Laurencekirk; 3, (eq) D and D Ruxton, Moss-side of Esslie, Fettercairn, and J and D Forrester, Aldie Farm, Cruden Bay.

Spring malting barley – 1, Fraser Middleton; 2 ,Alex Reid, Mains of Newton, Laurencekirk; 3, A J Duncan.

Spring feed barley – 1, Alan Grant; 2 and 3 Charles McCombie.