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Bill Smith farms 1200 acres across four farms in northeast Scotland, growing 800 acres of Laureate spring malting barley alongside his father, John, brother Alan, and the tractor driver, Callum. Sustainable farming is important to Bill, with regenerative practices playing essential roles in the farming system for the last ten years. Livestock integration is a fundamental business element, including 180 suckler cows, 500 lambing ewes, and around 40,000 weaner pigs annually. They provide a source of farmyard manure for all four farms, acting as a natural fertilizer spread on a rotational basis to target areas that need the most organic matter.

Cover crops comprised of 60% fodder radish and 40% white mustard are also a vital component of Bill’s farming system. Once the spring barley has been harvested in mid-August, the cover crop will be drilled using the Vaderstad Spirit grain drill until the end of September at a 9kg/ha seed rate. This will be left to grow throughout the winter until the end of February and incorporated with a Vaderstad Topdown cultivator to return nutrients and organic matter to the soil before spring barley is drilled. Fodder radish is very well suited to the light sandy soils of northeast Scotland. Its deep rooting structure enhances soil restructuring and moisture control, improving the overall quality of the soil.

The primary goal of cover crops is to achieve ‘green winters’. Treating the cover crop the same as a ‘proper’ crop achieves the best results.
Since growing cover crops, we have noticed that our other crops are much more resilient. The soil holds more nutrients and moisture meaning the barley can withstand weather extremes in drought conditions, and in heavy rain, the land is much quicker to drain. – Bill Smith.


Image of Bill Smith farming Laureate spring malting barley in Scotland

Following an extensive soil analysis across his farm, Bill has recently focused on improving the quality and health of the soil by increasing pH. The optimum soil pH for nitrogen use efficiency from fertilizer is between 6.5 and 7.5. Bill has been applying lime to soils with a lower pH, although this is a long-term (and costly) process that may need multiple lime applications. One tonne of lime raises pH by 0.1.

Looking forward, Bill has further plans for sustainable farming. To improve water use responsibility, a rainwater harvesting system will be installed on the new barley store. Recycled rainwater will be used for livestock, crop spraying, and power washing machinery.

Countryside education and promoting British agriculture continue to grow at Byres Farm. Bill’s wife, Helen, hosts around 1500 nursery and school children yearly for summer trips, craft activities, and weekly groups where parents and children learn what is happening at the farm. Part of the Chivas brand ambassador training is also carried out here to explain malting barley production and the best practices to benefit the bottom line and the sustainable farmed environment.

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