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Bill Smith farms 1200 acres across 4 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 evidently important to Bill, with regenerative practices playing important roles in the farming system for the last 10 years. Livestock integration is a fundamental element of the business including 180 suckler cows, 500 lambing ewes and around 40,000 weaner pigs per year. They provide a source of farmyard manure for all 4 farms, acting as a natural fertilizer which is spread on a rotational basis to target areas which need the organic matter the most.

Cover crops, made up 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 in using the Vaderstad Spirit grain drill, until the end of September at a seed rate of 9kg/ha. 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

Improving the quality and health of the soil through increasing pH has recently been a key focus for Bill, following an extensive soil analysis across his farm. The optimum soil pH for nitrogen use efficiency from fertilizer is between 6.5 to 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, requiring 1 tonne of lime to raise pH by 0.1.

Looking forward, Bill has further plans for sustainable farming. There are plans to install a rainwater harvesting system on the new barley store to improve water use responsibility. 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 every year for summer trips, craft activities and weekly groups where parents and children come to find out 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 practice to benefit the bottom line and the sustainable farmed environment.

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