Donald Ross, Rhynie Farm, Tain

Donald Ross, Rhynie Farm, Tain

Attention to Detail is Key to Award-winning Farmers

Being open to new ideas, sharing knowledge and having a keen attention to detail is what sets the winner of the 2018 AgriScot Scottish Arable Farmer of the Year and YEN awards apart, says their agronomist. 

The winner of the 2018 AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the year award, and four winners in the Yield Enhancement Network Awards (YEN), are all members of Scottish Agronomy, a farmer-led advisory cooperative.

As members, they take part in regular agronomy groups in their area where they exchange ideas, data and information, much of which is generated through the extensive regional trials system, which extends to over 20,000 trials plots – the biggest across the north of the UK.

Donald Ross, double award-winner    

Donald Ross, a mixed farmer at Rhynie Farm, Tain in Ross-shire, won the AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the Year and also picked up silver for the YEN ‘Best Percentage of Potential Yield’ for his wheat – achieving 98% of his land’s maximum potential yield at 10.8t/ha.

“He’s outward looking, involved in the farming community and he hosts trials on his farm,” said Greg Dawson, Mr Ross’ agronomist, when asked what he put his wins down to.

“He’s always looking to move onto the next variety that will perform well, but he’s not a follower of fashion – he makes his own decisions. He does a lot of picking up new information and coming up with new ideas in the agronomy group.”

Mr Ross, who said he was “chuffed and proud” of his awards, said being part of Scottish Agronomy had had a “massive effect” on his farm’s success.

“Greg will come out once a month and chat around the table and talk about what is being advised around the country – then it falls to me to make the decisions. It gives me focus, flexibility and a knowledge-based approach.

“[Because Scottish Agronomy is independent], he’s not selling me anything. You know everything you apply is at the right time and the right amount because he’s not on a commission, and he’ll tell you the best product for the job.”

Mr Ross picks up ideas from the internet, like his father did from the newspaper, he said. He’s trialled OSR without using fungicides, drilling barley without a seed dressing and is currently experimenting with direct drilling.

“Whatever we do we try our best,” said Mr Ross. “We try new technology when we can and its very important to me to get the best out of the cooperative for everyone involved.

“The way things are at the moment, you’ve got to share information, rather than be insular and single minded.”

Judge of the AgriScot Arable Farmer of the Year, Andrew Moir, said that Mr Ross has a passion for soil and regards it as his greatest asset.

“The integration with the livestock to create a sustainable rotation allied to a sensitivity for the environment and biodiversity plus the importance of benchmarking tipped the balance in Rhynie Farm’s favour,” said Mr Moir. “Having a marketing strategy, working with others in a collaborative way and knowing your own costs are vital for the arable sector especially in these uncertain times.”


Hugo Lee, YEN gold award winner

Hugo Lee, a mixed farmer at Jedburgh, in the Borders, won gold in the YEN ‘Best Field Yield’ award for his spring barley, achieving 8.2t/ha for his malting barley, Laureate.

“He’s very forward thinking,” said Mr Lee’s agronomist, Andrew Gilchrist.

“He’s only recently taken on the farm, but is ambitious and receptive to new ideas. Hugo asks a lot of questions and challenges the perceived wisdom.”

The best farmers, Mr Gilchrist adds, “have a good attention to detail, ask questions and get on with the job.”

To achieve his high yield for a high spec malting barley, Mr Lee said he used a high seed rate of 475 seeds per metre squared, a lot of manure and added phosphate to his seed beds.

His family have been members of Scottish Agronomy for 20 years and he said he speaks regularly to the company.

“The great thing about them is they are very sensible about inputs – it’s all about the gross margin and it’s all backed up by enormous amounts of trial data,” he said.

Scottish Agronomy members Mark McCallum also won bronze in YEN’s Best Percentage of Potential Yield wheat category, and James Hopkinson received a commendation for Innovation.


Notes to editors

  • Scottish Agronomy 

Scottish Agronomy is the leading organisation in Scotland devoted to the provision of independent arable advice to farmers. Established in 1985, by a group of progressive arable farmers, the farmer-led co-operative aims to produce, gather, interpret and disseminate technical information solely for the benefit of its membership.

It runs local agronomy groups of 8 – 12 farmers meeting once a month spread across all the main arable areas in Scotland from Easter Ross to the Borders as well as offering conventional one-to-one advice. It has a member base of 210 farmers and has a large and growing data set from its 20,000 field trials.

  • YEN

The Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) was created to connect agricultural organisations and farmers striving to improve crop yields. The network includes farmers, agronomists, researchers, and industry representatives.

  • AgriScot award

AgriScot is a leading farm business event, which also runs awards competitions for the best farmers in each sector. Last year was the first Scottish arable farm competition.

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