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Doing Different Reaps Rewards

Preston Hall Farms is one of those businesses that embraces the term “doing different”. They don’t shy away from change and adopt new innovations to ensure they remain profitable and sustainable for the future. It is one of the reasons they were awarded AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the Year in 2021, sponsored by SoilEssentials and supported by AHDB. We visited them to find out more.

Located in Midlothian, Preston Hall Farms is made up of four units with a combined 520ha of cereal crops, and since 1996 has been managed by Bill Gray. Their rotation, which includes winter wheat, winter barley, spring barley, OSR and oats, is well balanced ensuring they are financially stable whilst also protecting the environment and enhancing wildlife.

Part of this approach includes working in collaboration with neighbouring farmers and their livestock to graze the pastureland, helping enrich their soil organic matter. Good soil health and soil structure is something that the team works hard to sustain, with green manure utilised across the whole farm as well as cover crops during the winter months.

“We believe in collaboration and working to our strengths.” explains Bill, “Our focus is as a cereal unit, but we believe reintegrating livestock will benefit our rotation. We have worked with our neighbours at Saughland Farm to monitor the impact of integrating cattle for a short period of time, over a three-year period. We have seen an increase in micro-nutrients and a higher worm count and having planted some of the grassland into wheat this year, we are excited to see how the soil health benefits may have impacted our crop potential, as we get ready to harvest.”

The business does not standstill and continuously invests in their infrastructure, staff team and local community. The construction of a new grain store is helping to ensure yield quality is well maintained as well as marketing control, giving the optimum price for their crop. The old steading buildings have recently been refurbished to provide 10 working units for a mix of businesses within the creative industries, whilst also generating an additional income stream to help offset the volatility of farming.

The farm often welcomes visitors to learn more about their farming practices, and in 2017 they enrolled as one of Scotland’s Monitor Farms, sharing knowledge and learning from the industry to further improve their operation. For Bill, this is all an essential part of their business.

“We have never been afraid to try new things and believe in being open and sharing information and our experiences with others,” he continued. “Being a Monitor Farm has given us the opportunity to do this and being able to share our story as the recipient of the AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the Year goes further along this path.”

As a winner of the award, Bill is invited to join the judging panel for 2022 and has just recently visited the shortlisted candidates.

‘It was hugely rewarding to visit this year’s contenders for the award. Arable farming has become more complex over the years, integrating new technologies and systems to give the best outcome, environmentally and commercially. New jobs and skills have been developed, and it is great to see an award, such as AgriScot, recognise not only the Farm Owner or Manager, but the whole team. This was one of the reasons I was keen to enter and delighted to win – it is a chance to say thank you and acknowledge every individual’s contribution.”

 

As part of the AgriScot prize, SoilEssentials are providing a full system health check, firmware upgrade to their Trimble system and providing a one-year upgrade to RTK accuracy with the correction signal, provided by SoilEssentials’ very own award-winning EssentialsNet RTK service.

Rod Armour, Head of Sales at SoilEssentials, added:

“Bill is a real advocate for technology at farm level, and whilst it is moving at pace, it must offer material and cost benefits. Bill and his team have always been early adopters, initially purchasing a Trimble CFX-750 guidance display and later upgraded to provide full steering to a Case Puma tractor. Their forward-thinking approach, and eagerness to explore and try new solutions, is one of the many reasons they won the award.”

The AgriScot Scottish Arable Farm of the Year will be announced on 16th November at AgriScot. To find out more about the event, visit www.agriscot.co.uk or to learn more about the technologies from SoilEssentials, visit www.soilessentials.com

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