Three generations of the Beattie family farm together from their base at Tullywhanland, Forfar – and all embrace a best practice mantra, especially when it comes to soil health.

Gordon Beattie and his father (also Gordon) welcomed Gordon’s son, Andrew, home to work in the business in 2019. Gordon’s sister, Tracey, looks after the book-keeping and financial side of the business which also has one full-time general farm worker, Doug Collier.

Together, the family farm 950 acres spread over four farms, growing 750 acres of combinable crops and grass in-house and with around 200 acres let-out annually to local potato and vegetable growers. The 100 acres of grass supports a high-health status closed herd of 85 Limousin-cross suckler cows and their followers. All youngstock not kept as herd replacements is finished on farm. In 2019, a purpose-built bespoke 1000 pig unit was built as an additional enterprise.

“We have always been keen to keep our soils in good health,” commented Gordon. “We used to have a contract to remove chicken litter which we then spread on the two farms we have south of Forfar in order to keep organic matter levels up. When that contract ended – I believe because the litter is now burnt to produce energy – we were looking for a new solution and this eventually led to the introduction of the pig enterprise last year.

“My focus on soils started back in 2004 when I attended a meeting at which Jim Wilson, of SoilEssentials, spoke on the importance of soil sampling. I came home from the meeting and spoke to my dad – who has always, even now at 80, been keen to embrace best practice – and we decided to start sampling.

“It was amazing to see the differences, particularly in pH levels, in soils across the farms and even in the same fields. I suppose that make sense if you think about it as today's big, open fields would once have been smaller 10 or 15 acre parcels, probably broken up like that for a reason,” he added.

“We continue to use SoilEssentials for our soil sampling to this day, usually sampling the fields destined for veg or potatoes in our rotation. Some fields have now been sampled three times over the past 15 years and it is really paying off, with the tonnage of lime now required to achieve optimum pH levels becoming less each time.

Read more: Soil health testing taken to a new level

“Thanks to the good service we received from SoilEssentials, they became the obvious people to speak with when we bought a new tractor in 2009 and decided to go down the GPS guidance route. They installed a Trimble FMX unit on our then brand new NH7030 and it was a real game changer for us. This is still our main drilling tractor and the original Trimble unit is still going strong and allowing us to establish crops extremely accurately.

“We must have saved a huge amount of time and a significant amount of fuel over the years as we don’t have any wasted overlaps. Fields that once took, for example eight hours to cultivate, can now be done in seven with the same machinery at the same speeds, so it just shows what time can be saved with accurate pass-to-pass control," he pointed out.

Read more: Test soil to hit new standards

“Four years ago, we started applying liquid fertiliser instead of solids. For this job, it is important to make sure that tramlines are at exactly the right spacing, or the fertiliser overlaps or missed strips will be very evident in the crop. With our Trimble systems – we now also have the GFX-750 unit in our other main arable tractor – we know that our tramlines are at 24m, not 23.5m or 24.2m or whatever.

"With tractor guidance taken care of, we can 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.

“With so much importance placed on getting things right, we need a reliable RTK signal provider for our GPS guidance. I’m aware that the major tractor manufacturers offer their own brand guidance systems but with the service we receive from SoilEssentials I would be very reluctant to look anywhere else – it is very rare ever to lose signal from their own RTK satellite.”

“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. My grandfather always said 'the quickest way to the end of the field is a straight-line.'

"But, two things I know – the human eye cannot keep as straight a line all day every day as a satellite signal can – and it would be exhausting to try. And the human eye cannot accurately tell you the chemical make up of your soils. I’m glad we have a great service from a local specialist to help with both those tasks.”