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Best Soil in Show 2014 winner shares recipe for success

Douglas Greig, Best Soil in Show '14 winner. Courtesy: Greig family
"The Greig family execute an eight-year crop rotation with spring barley, winter barley, oil-seed rape, wheat and occasional vining peas

After winning Best Soil in Show 2014 in June, 16-year-old Douglas Greig came to the James Hutton Institute to share some of the secrets behind his great success with farm manager Euan Caldwell. He hopes this will help other young farmers to get to grips with soil science.

At first glance, Douglas is an ordinary farmer’s son, full of enthusiasm for working the land, someone who loves to spend his time outdoors on the family’s fields and wants to walk in his father’s footsteps. “How can you grow up on a farm and not get involved? I don’t want to do anything else,” he says. But he also takes an unusual interest in the quality of the soil on the family’s fields.

The Greigs’ farm Newmains is based in Tayside and has been running since 1983. Just like his father and brother, Douglas started to help out around the farm when he was just seven years old. Now he works out on the fields every weekend, ploughing, growing, seeding and whatever else needs doing (except for paperwork, he leaves that to his parents). “He’s never been afraid to get his hands dirty,” says his proud mother. “He’s not one to sit behind a computer screen or play video games.”

He is full of enthusiasm to learn more about farming, and having completed his education at Forfar Academy recently, he now wants to study agriculture at college in September. Coming from a crop farm, he is looking forward to learning more about keeping livestock.

Besides helping out at the farm in his free time, Douglas has also been competing in vintage ploughing matches with his Massey Ferguson 35 tractor and Ransomes plough. In the three years since he started, he has won several trophies, which are now joined by the impressive trophy and quaich he was presented with at the Royal Highland Show.

Two weeks later, he and his family arrived at the James Hutton Institute in Invergowrie to talk to Euan Caldwell about how they work their land and what might have contributed to the good soil quality.

On their eight fields, the Greig family execute an eight-year crop rotation with spring barley, winter barley, oil-seed rape, wheat and occasional vining peas. They removed potatoes from their crop rotation as they can have negative effects on soil structure. “There’s a lot to be said for a healthy crop rotation, and they are doing it just right,” Euan Caldwell commented. 

The Greigs subsoil the tramlines every year and periodically subsoil their fields just before ploughing. In order to avoid compaction, they put lime on stubble before ploughing and do most of the ploughing in autumn so that the frost mould can break down the soil into a good seedbed.

After first using compost in a trial in 2012, they now put a mixture of farmyard manure (thanks to a straw-for-dung arrangement with a neighbour) and compost on their fields. The field Douglas took the sample from had been treated with compost last year, which probably contributed a lot to soil quality.

“I chose that field as there was nothing planted in it at the time of the competition, but it is now planted in spring barley after being wheat last year,” he explains. After he and his thirty competitors had sent off their samples, three soil scientists at the James Hutton Institute scrutinized them, taking into account both the chemical data - obtained from analysis within the laboratory - and their own visual and tactile assessment.

Dr Jason Owen, member of the judging panel, described Douglas’ winning soil as having “a sandy silt loam texture and an excellent structure in large part due to its organic matter content”. According to Dr Owen, this makes it more resistant to erosion and degradation and helps ensure adequate drainage. Furthermore, the chemical analysis of the sample indicated a balanced nutrient content – neither excessively high nor very low.

When his soil was announced to be the best, Douglas was overwhelmed by the media response to winning Best Soil in Show 2014. The story was not only featured in the Scottish Farmer, the Farmers Guardian, The Courier, The Press & Journal, and other publications, but also found a wide audience online and on social media.

Graeme Dey MSP even lodged a motion at the Scottish Parliament to congratulate the young farmer, and Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland and Minister for Environment & Climate Change tweeted: “He has a bright future in farming ahead of him, I am sure.”

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Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Printed from /news/best-soil-show-2014-winner-shares-recipe-success on 20/05/22 05:21:55 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.