Farming Couple Hope to Turn Grass into Gold in 2017

A young Scottish farming couple from Fife are hoping to turn Grass into Gold in 2017 after renovating a number of their fields as part of a nationwide research programme.

Craig Malone and Katreen Millar from Pitcairn Farm near Lochgelly are taking part in Barenbrug’s Grass into Gold – an initiative that is exploring the effect that proactive grassland management can have on grass quality, and grazing and forage yields, on ten UK farms.

Mhairi Dawson from Barenbrug and Craig Malone from Pitcairn Farm

Mhairi Dawson from Barenbrug and Craig Malone from Pitcairn Farm

Working closely with Mhairi Dawson, Barenbrug’s Scottish grassland expert, Craig and Katreen have so far made improvements to three fields on their farm, where they run 500 Blackface ewes to produce mule lambs, and buy in heifers to bull and sell with calves at foot.

On two fields that were slow to start in spring and less productive than other areas of grassland, Craig and Katreen have implemented a soil improvement programme. This followed a visual assessment of the fields by Mhairi, who diagnosed a phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) deficiency – later confirmed by a soil sample. Tissue samples also revealed low sulphur contents of the grass, meaning plant utilisation of nitrogen (N) was low.

To remedy the situation, Craig and Katreen have been gradually introducing fertiliser to the land to correct soil status. Together, Mhairi, Craig and Katreen have also been overseeding a number of different fields. They’ve tackled an area of old grass at the back of the farm, which was unproductive, and difficult to plough and cultivate because of the presence of pylons. Here, the team overseeded a mixture that can put the life back into long-term leys and restore productivity. Containing ryegrass and clover, this blend increases grass quality for better animal performance and can repair damage caused by poaching. Several younger leys have also been overseeded; first with a ryegrass, enabling the team to monitor the emergence of any broad-leaved weeds that might need spraying out. A white clover was then added.

Separately, Craig and Katreen have taken advice from Barenbrug on introducing red clover to their farm. Having seen very good results with white clover in terms of nitrogen fixing and lamb weight, they wanted to find out if red clover would boost productivity further. Following Mhairi’s advice, a red / white clover blend has been sown in one contained area of the farm. Less sensitive to poaching and heavy traffic than a pure red plant, a blended product will last longer. Red clover leys generally persistent for four to five years while red / white clover blended with a perennial ryegrass mixture can last for up to ten years.

Crucially, because red clover can cause fertility issues in breeding sheep, Craig and Katreen have been careful to sow the mix on one field, which can be avoided by sheep six weeks before and after tupping. Barenbrug has also supplied seed for Craig and Katreen’s forage crop acres where they typically grow swede, forage rape and stubble turnips.

Commenting Craig said:
“It’s been great to work with Mhairi and the team at Barenbrug over the last year. With their help we’ve made some fairly incremental changes that will, hopefully, make a big difference to the bottom line of our business over the coming years. We started to notice an improvement in some of the fields last summer and look forward to assessing the results more carefully in 2017.”

Commenting Mhairi said:
“From grass grazing is key to the success of Craig and Katreen’s business and I’m delighted with the progress that we've made so far. Grassland management is a long-term investment but can make a huge difference to animal productivity, yields and overall profitability. I am particularly excited to see how the overseeding has improved the old pastures and the impact the red clover has on the young cattle.”

Craig and Katreen are one of ten farms taking part in Barenbrug’s Grass into Gold scheme. There are two other farms in Scotland; one in South Lanarkshire and one in Stirlingshire. Other farms taking part in the programme stretch from as far afield as Dorset, Sussex, Pembrokeshire and County Londonderry.


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