Farmers from Laurencekirk, St Cyrus and Midlothian have been named as the finalists in the AgriScot Arable Farm of the Year competition.
They are Bill Gray, who manages Preston Hall farm in Midlothian, Jim Reid of Milton of Mathers at St Cyrus, and Iain Wilson, farm manager at Tulloch Farms near Laurencekirk – all of whom are trialling new approaches to arable production.
The award recognises farmers who focus on soil health and make the best use of innovation and technology and the winner will be announced at AgriScot on February 9.
Award convener, John Kinnaird, described the finalists as innovative and “exceptional” farmers.
He said: “Forward-thinking, open minded farmers such as our finalists are what the arable sector in Scotland needs now to face the undoubted challenges ahead.”
Bill Gray has a high profile as chairman of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS), but his day job since 1996 has been looking after Preston Hall’s farmland.
According to the citation, his focus at Preston Hall is on balancing the competing demands of crop production and financial stability whilst protecting the environment and enhancing wildlife. In 2017 the farm became one of Scotland’s nine monitor farms and piloted the reintroduction of livestock into the arable rotation in order to improve soil health.
Meanwhile, Iain Wilson manages around 2,000 acres of land, the majority of which is used for arable cropping.
In a bid to improve yields, he embarked on a trial project in 2018 which saw 450 Blackface ewe lambs graze on 25 acres of oats, 25 acres of wheat and 37 acres of oilseed rape.
The trial is now in its fourth year and aims to graze around 400 acres of winter cereals this season, along with 250 acres of over winter cover crops ahead of vegetables and spring cereals.
Jim Reid runs his family farm at St Cyrus with his brother Ron, where he is trialling alternative agricultural methods to address the key challenges the industry faces.
The brothers grow 80 hectares of seed potatoes, with the rest of the arable land dedicated to barley and oilseed rape.
The farm is currently hosting the AHDB’s strategic potato trials in Scotland which are focusing on desiccation, crop and soil health trials.
The 2019 award winner, John Weir from Lacesston farm in Fife, one of this year’s judges, said the assessments had been challenging.
He added: ” I was very impressed with the entrants and their willingness to embrace new ideas and adopt innovative approaches to further their knowledge of how to deal with the challenges they each face on farm.
“They are all sharing their knowledge with their peers by working with co-ops and on farm visits. Very Commendable.”