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Vice President's Blog - 19 April 2019

Writing in between spreading loads of lime, I believe Scotland is in a good place when it comes to soil health but we could do more writes Martin Kennedy.

Soil health is vitally important to our productivity levels on farm and also how that soil maintains or, in some circumstances, increases its capability to store carbon.

In general. the arable sector has been well ahead of the game when it comes to looking after soil health as it plays such an important role in the profitability of the farm. During the process of soil testing and mapping, which many have been doing for a long time, they then use technology to apply nutrients only where they're required by variable rate applications.  That not only helps balance nutrients across the fields, but also reduces excess applications to some areas and maximises nutrient uptake, so keeping our soils in tip top condition and helping the bottom line.

The arable sector has been doing this for a number of years but never get recognised for these efforts - all of which help address one of the issues at the top of the agenda right now and that's climate change.

There are those now taking further steps with either minimum tillage (min-till) or no till agriculture and those that have practiced this for some time are now seeing both improved soil health and better returns.

I'm not saying for one minute that this is the answer for everyone, but it is becoming increasingly more popular, and with reduced carbon emissions it also helps the environment.

What we must remember is that there is only 8% of Scotland's agricultural land which is classified prime agricultural land, so we must ensure that this sector retains the capability to produce what is crucial to a large part of the economy and also does so in an environmentally friendly manner.

There continues to be hurdles put in front of production, whether it's greening rules which have no concept of the Scottish perspective, or the continued demise of the chemical options available.

If we're not careful, we risk losing what we already have here in Scotland and that is a productive sector that allows us to satisfy home demand, hopefully keep out imports that don’t meet our standards and can also be detrimental to our climate change objectives.

We are now in the second year of a five-year plan to soil test the whole farm. This is probably something we should have been doing anyway to look after our soil health and more importantly the profitability of the farm.

What has become apparent is we are very high in phosphates, probably due to applying an N P fertiliser for years in the spring. The levels are that high that if we were to continue, we run the risk of these levels actually being so high it would have a negative effect on our soils.

Responding to this has saved more than £30 per tonne on our fertiliser bill this year as we will not be applying any phosphate to the grazing or silage ground.

It's also interesting watching the lime spreader working.  It looks as though the spreader is completely knackered because it spreads heavy on some parts and then lightly on others.  But that is thanks to computer and GPS technology targeting the lime at where it is required, based on the soil testing results.  

I would urge all those in the livestock and grassland sectors who don't presently use this technology to take a leaf out of the arable sector’s book and treat grass with the attention it deserves.  After all, from a livestock perspective, it's every bit as important.

Scottish farmers could do more on soil health, but let's remember that in comparison to some other parts of the world, we are starting from a pretty admirable position.

Politicians need to recognise this and appreciate that, if we're not careful, the opposite of what is desired will be achieved.

Author: Martin Kennedy

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Andrew Moir

88 days ago

Well said Martin, getting recognition from politicians for targeting inputs is well overdue and I look forward to seeing this recognition topping the agendas of all concerned. Andrew
C Bell

75 days ago

Heard you on radio Scotland yesterday on beavers, well spoken, and today on 'Call Kaye' making farmers' case on climate change. Good to have someone speaking knowledgeably on behalf of farmers, and in the case of beavers bringing in the problems walkers could experience. Have to spread the web of support.
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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin Vice President of NFU Scotland and is a tenant farmer in Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters, Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to over 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire branch chairman, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin then went on to be vice chairman then chaired the committee for three years. He has served as Vice President of NFUS for two years and is currently sitting on his third.

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