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James Hutton Institute invests in farming futures

Aerial photograph of Balruddery Farm
The James Hutton Institute has announced a major boost to its experimental farming centre at Balruddery Farm in Angus.

The James Hutton Institute has announced a major boost to its experimental farming centre at Balruddery near the village of Fowlis in Angus. Balruddery Farm, including the Institute’s Centre for Sustainable Cropping, will be enlarged by nearly 50% with the purchase of a section of adjacent farmland.

Scotland’s expertise in tackling food and environmental security issues will be enhanced by the acquisition of the 51 hectare Berryhill Farm for an undisclosed sum. The James Hutton Institute’s scientists are part of a global effort to find ways of boosting food production from crops while at the same time using fewer fertilisers and biocides and taking steps to protect biodiversity. This is against a background of increasing pressure on available land from urban development, forestry and amenity use and climate change.

The Chief Executive of the James Hutton Institute, Professor Iain Gordon, said: “This is a major step for us and one that will offer new research opportunities across all our research themes in Dundee and Aberdeen.

“The research that we do is invaluable given the really tough challenges the world faces in the effort to feed nine billion people by the middle of this century at the same time as ensuring that we do not downgrade the environment that supports our livelihoods.

“Since we purchased Balruddery Farm with help from the Scottish Government four years ago we have been able to establish more than 200 separate field experiments, including our Centre for Sustainable Cropping.

“Our difficulty at Balruddery was the lack of space to fit in all the things we want to do as well as manage our land sustainably. Best practice in land management is to have a four to six year crop rotation to ensure the soil is not depleted of organic matter and nutrients and its physical and biological structure is sustained and enhanced.

“In addition when conducting field experiments it is essential to have at least two years of uniform cropping between each field experiment in order to remove the imprint left by previous experimental treatments on the same piece of land.

“Currently, the recovery period at Balruddery is at the minimum of two years and we had concerns this was not enough. The pressure on our current land resources for existing and new experiments means we were unable to apply good land management practice and we were determined not to risk depleting the condition of the soil. We are equally determined to ensure our work reflects best practice.

“I am hugely grateful to the Board of Directors of our Institute who have encouraged us to obtain the additional land at Berryhill. It means that there is more land to use for our experimental programme and allows for an increased recovery time between experimental treatments to reinstate a well-balanced six year rotation to ensure the long term sustainability of the soil resource.”

The Chairman of the James Hutton Institute, Ray Perman, said: “The effect of this acquisition will be to ensure the robustness of the science both now and in the longer term. In addition to ensuring the quality of our research, the extra land will give us more flexibility.

“As experimental work can be undertaken in rotation with commercial cropping on the new land, this will be synchronised with activities on Balruddery Farm ensuring the relevance of our work.”

The continuing investment in the Centre for Sustainable Cropping has been welcomed by the farming community. NFU Scotland Vice President, Allan Bowie said: "For Scottish farming to play its part in meeting future food security and environmental challenges, farmers need to buy in to the benefits that sustainable intensification of production can bring.

“Producing more food, while using fewer inputs and generating a lower environmental footprint can all bring efficiency benefits back to the farm gate but we need the help of scientists to help verify and deliver that message. Having the James Hutton Institute generate farm and field-scale work on sustainable production here in Scotland will keep Scottish farmers in the vanguard when it comes to shaping viable farming production systems for the future."

The move was also hailed by the James Hutton Institute’s commercial affiliate, Mylnefield Research Services (MRS) Ltd., which supplies products and services generated from the research undertaken at the Institute. Managing Director, Dr Nigel Kerby, said: “I see this as an excellent opportunity to market the James Hutton Institute’s expertise and its commitment to better land use and sustainable crop production.”

Notes to editors

Balruddery Farm near Dundee comprises 118 hectares of good arable land divided into 17 fields of irregular shape and variable size. It supports more than 200 separate experiments and crop/variety trials with crops grown specifically for major industry knowledge transfer/knowledge exchange events including Potatoes in Practice, Cereals in Practice, and one-off technical events.

The James Hutton Institute is a LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) Innovation Centre and participates in the LEAF Open Farm day events. The Centre for Sustainable Cropping was inaugurated by HRH The Princess Royal in June 2010.

Some of the current commitments at Balruddery include:

  • the Centre for Sustainable Cropping project – a major long term systems experiment used in multiple Scottish Government funded work-packages and for EU project
  • our cereal breeding programme
  • our potato breeding programme
  • a “tram line” experiment – looking at the effects of farm traffic on soil erosion
  • a soil disturbance trial – looking at long term tillage effects
  • a compost experiment – looking at low cost nutrient recovery solutions
  • an EU-funded project looking at crop rotations
  • drought experiments.

The land being acquired at Berryhill Farm comprises 52 hectares of south facing, grade 2/3 quality arable land adjacent to Balruddery Farm. The land has six fields of between 4.45 and 10.68 hectares.

Press and media enquiries: 

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

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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.