John Weir farms 300 hectares at Lacceston, Gateside, growing a mix of winter and spring cereals, oilseed rape, beans and potatoes. He fattens beef cattle and is using grass in the rotation as well as swapping straw for dung to improve the farm’s soil health. Looking for specialist potato advice with local knowledge, he joined Scottish Agronomy in 2011. Since then he has also signed up for the information-only cereals membership and has hosted trial plots for both potatoes and cereals on his farm.
“Costs of any inputs are so high that any way of cutting those costs is essential to the success of our business. Working with Scottish Agronomy, we have reduced rates and cut out sprays which is key to our bottom line and it’s good to know that you are only using what you need.
“For me the independent advice from Scottish Agronomy is really important, but it’s the combination of this with group discussion which makes this such powerful resource to our enterprise. There’s a great group of farmers involved – they are all in the top 25% of growers – so you learn a lot from being around them. We discuss the latest techniques and systems, we compare and share ideas and learn practical – perhaps most importantly – ways to solve a problem.”
For the past year John has also signed up for the information service for cereals and has attended the trials open days to hear the full analysis of the outcomes of the year’s trials.
“The technical bulletins give me a good comparison for costs and being more efficient. The information is put simply in farming terms and gives me the armoury to challenge and make my decisions. Scottish Agronomy has years of experience and they have got the trials data in this area to evidence their recommendations. As opposed to being complacent and doing the ‘same old’ year-on-year, it gives me the confidence to adjust my inputs to the season.”
John has become increasingly aware of the need to focus on soil management for better yields in tandem with good agronomy:
“We have light land so we need to feed it and if we build the structure and organic matter it will be more resilient to extreme weather, whether drought or flood. We used to sell straw but now we swap it for dung, and we put more thought into potato work, thinking about when we are going on the land and also improving drainage.”
Precision farming and technology plays a big part in the farming enterprise at Lacesston. John gets a buzz from using technology to assess the performance of crops and to make input decisions, and looks forward to seeing how technology develops to support his enterprise further.
His focus on innovation, benchmarking and soil health made Lacesston a finalist in the 2019 AgriScot Arable Farm of the Year Award.
“We were really honoured to be considered for the awards as we are a fairly small-scale family farm, and it is rewarding to be recognised for the work we are doing. At Lacesston we have focused on combining technology and good agronomy with soil improvement to achieve the best yields, but a lot of our improvement comes from comparing and sharing ideas with other forward-thinking farmers around us – like the other two finalists who are also members of Scottish Agronomy – and pushing each other to be the best we can be. Whatever the scale, ultimately we are all trying to make our businesses as resilient and profitable as possible.”