The Scottish Arable Farm of the Year 2021 is due to be presented at AgriScot on February 9, 2022, and this year’s shortlist consists of two farmers from Aberdeenshire and one from Midlothian.

The annual competition is supported by AHDB and sponsored by SoilEssentials. It recognises farmers who focus on soil health and make best use of innovation and technology.

And the finalists are:

Jim Reid, Milton of Mathers

Milton of Mathers farm, situated in St Cyrus, Montrose, is run by Jim Reid, together with his brother, Ron and father, Curly.

Farming has always been at the core of their family, being passed from generation to generation and it’s this heritage that motivates Jim to give something back to the industry and help farmers find solutions to the current challenges they face.

On his farm, Jim grows 140 ha of malting barley, 80 ha of winter barley, 20 ha of winter oilseed rape and 80 ha of potatoes, some of which is on his own land and some on rented fields across the region, trying to achieve a seven-eight year rotation.

Jim is particularly proud of the potato growing side of his business. “We are only seven miles away from McCain’s depot and we have been one of their seed potato suppliers since 1986, when they first came to Scotland. We have a very close relationship with them and are delighted to be working on the SPot farm project with them as partners,” said Jim.

Jim has farmed all his life and is constantly looking for new ways to trial different agricultural methods to address the key challenges he is faced with. His goal is to improve the way he farms and improve the health and quality of his crops.

“It’s the field trials that we learn from the most, as it allows us to trial different methods to address the key challenges we are faced with and helps us improve the way we farm.

"I would describe myself as a problem solver, I want to find the answers and help the wider industry overcome the uncertainty of these times particularly when faced with the rising cost of fertiliser and the loss of certain chemicals.

At Milton of Mathers, multiple studies on desiccation have been carried out over the last 10 years, and Jim has worked with Scottish Agronomy and most recently AHDB on these. He explained: “In the last decade, we have been looking for a plan B for desiccation. As part of this season’s desiccation trial, we looked at different fertilising regimes for comparison as well as the impact of cultivations.

“Significant outcomes from other recent trials that we have carried out through the SPot farm demonstrated that reduced tillage is an option, with the right conditions, but it needs a flexible approach. Aphid control using cereal buffer strips and wildflower inter-cropping was also shown to be commercially viable.

"And PCN testing at higher levels after harvest showed that areas at risk of being taken out of seed production could be identified earlier, which means potato growers can gain more time to implement earlier land management strategies.

"This season we have had a lot of success with our straw mulching trials which have shown higher yields, higher tuber numbers and reduced virus.

Iain Wilson, Tulloch Farms

Iain Wilson is the farm manager at Tulloch Farms, near Laurencekirk.

He manages around 800 ha of land, the majority of which is used for arable cropping. His two main priorities are the health and safety of his staff, and the health and wellbeing of his soil.

Health and safety is the single biggest concern for Iain and he has put a very rigorous policy in place, with a huge involvement from staff. This includes monthly meetings in a bid to bring all employees on board, and to change mindsets so that unsafe practices start to be noticed and brought up at monthly meetings to be changed rather than being accepted as the way it should be done.

In a bid to improve yields, Iain embarked on a trial project in 2018 which saw 450 Blackface ewe lambs graze on 25 acres of oats, 25 acres of wheat and 37 acres of oilseed rape.

The trial proved so successful that it is now in its fourth year of grazing cereals and aims to graze around 400 acres of winter cereals this season, along with 250 acres of over winter cover crops ahead of veg and spring cereals.

Iain commented: “Last year, we started growing broccoli for East of Scotland Growers and we are the first grower in the ESG co-operative to farm 100% strip-till cultivated broccoli.

"This allowed us to reduce the fuel and wear on metal required to grow the crop as well as being able to put a cover crop in the ground ahead of the veg crop to help with soil structure.”

“In terms of soil health, we are striving to get our soil as healthy as possible with a move away from the plough where possible to a largely min-till approach for cereals, and strip-till for veg.

"We also grow as many cover crops as we can both over wintered and over summer, and through grazing our winter cereals, cover crops and veg aftermath, as well as spreading a large amount of dung each year we are trying to add as much back to our soil as we can.

"No straw is sold off farm, it's either utilized by our own 250 suckler cow herd or swapped with neighbouring farmers in a straw for muck deal," he added.

“Our cattle herd is run as lean as possible and we try to utilise home-grown fodder beet and silage as much as possible, and try to keep the cows outside for as much of the winter as we can get away with, using a 'bale-grazing' approach with hybrid kale/OSR sown out in arable fields each year to outwinter the cows with stubble/cover crop run back in a bid to both improve soil fertility and also reduce wintering costs on the cattle side.”

Iain also sits on the Scottish Agronomy 'innovation committee' and he sees that as an important route forward for Tulloch. “If the industry is to move forward at the pace that will be required in the next few years we are going to have to all work more collaboratively and learn far more from other farmers experiences.

"We need to get away from the mindset that across the fence is somehow 'the competition' and realise that it is, in fact, the complete opposite. The more collaboration and shared learning, the stronger we will all be as an industry,” added Iain.

The judges found Iain to be full of innovative ideas and a willingness to share these with other farmers. He is also very aware of the importance of maintaining good financial records so he can understand at any time what financial position his farm is in.

Bill Gray, Preston Hall Farms

Bill Gray has managed the farm at Preston Hall, in Midlothian, since 1996.

The farm successfully balances the competing demands of crop production and financial stability whilst protecting the environment and enhancing wildlife. With a highly capable team, modern machinery and a forward-thinking approach, Preston Hall strives to be at the forefront of modern farming practices.

In 2017, the farm took up the challenge of being one of Scotland’s Monitor Farms and was involved in the project until 2019. With soil health at its core, they have piloted introducing livestock back into the arable rotation.

For Bill, knowledge gained through his involvement with the programme helped boost crop gross margins. This has mostly been thanks to a better crop marketing strategy.

To avoid leaving ground bare over winter, he also started sowing a cover crop of black oats and phacelia into spring barley stubbles. This is incorporated into soils and followed by barley, thus helping nutrient cycling and soil structure.

Bill explained: “It’s reduced the amount of bare soil and the amount of ploughing we’re doing, which is good from a carbon point of view, and it also keeps fertility near the surface.”

A pilot project out-wintering cattle on spring barley stubbles and supplementing with silage bales produced off red clover leys, also proved successful. This naturally recycled nutrients back into the ground over winter and was done in partnership with the neighbouring Saughland livestock farm.

With soil health at its core, the team at Preston Hall have piloted introducing livestock back into the arable rotation.

He also undertook the construction of a new 4000-tonne grain store that had 'revolutionised' his harvest and enabled grain to be marketed more strategically. One of the main benefits of this had been the diversification options it unlocked.

Bill explained: “Building the new grain store was the catalyst that allowed us to renovate and repurpose the buildings that had previously been used as temporary grain stores and workshops. They are now occupied by nine local artisan businesses – everything from a coffee roaster to a micro-brewery, picture framer, potter and an essential oils producer who grows plants for the oils on land at the farm.

"Having the artisan businesses on site really added to the interest in Preston Hall Estate and raised awareness of the other things we do here. We have developed a multi-diverse business model with farming at its core and I am confident that it will ensure the business will remain resilient and stable.”


All eyes now on AgriScot

The leading Scottish Arable Farm of the Year 2021will be revealed at AgriScot on February 9 and will be rewarded with a bespoke precision farming package from SoilEssentials. This will be tailor-made for the business following a site visit to the farm to assess the technology being used and the business requirements.

This year, the candidates are being assessed by the 2019 title holder, John Weir, from Lacesston, in Fife, and AgriScot director and arable award convenor, John Kinnaird, together with AHDB as facilitators of the award.

Mr Kinnaird said: “Once again we have three exceptional finalists who are all innovative in different ways. Forward-thinking, open-minded farmers such as our finalists are what the arable sector in Scotland needs now to face the undoubted challenges ahead.”

Mr Weir added: “Having been the recipient of the award in 2019 it was challenging being the one to do the assessing. I was very impressed with the entrants and their willingness to embrace new ideas and adopt innovative approaches to further their knowledge of how to deal with the challenges they each face on farm.

"They are all sharing their knowledge with their peers by working with co-ops and on farm visits. Very commendable.”

Jim Wilson, managing director of SoilEssentials, commented: “The three finalists are very diverse, dynamic, and devoted to their farming businesses and it will not be an easy task for the assessors to whittle down to the ultimate award recipient.

"As the sponsors of the Scottish Arable Farm of the Year award, SoilEssentials thank all the nominated farmers for entering and congratulate the three short-listed farms on reaching the final stages. We are very keen to be getting back to AgriScot in February and will be delighted to meet these advocates of agriculture and find out more about them all. Good luck!”

AHDB’s director of cereals, Martin Grantley-Smith, said: “Awards such as the AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the Year highlight best practice and encourage businesses to future-proof themselves, supporting the drive towards a more resilient arable sector. We are delighted to be supporting the award again and look forward to recognising the recipient in February.”