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Soil & Nutrient Network – Case Study: Rhoin Farm, Campbeltown

15 March 0201

Introduction to Rhoin Farm, Campbeltown

The Rhoin Farm is a farming partnership comprising of Matthew, Catherine and David Ralston.  It is an 89 Hectare farm situated in the Laggan area of Kintyre with a height above sea level between 17 and 40 metres.Drainage expert Seamus Donnelly discussing soil structure

It is a mixed farm with Beef, Sheep, growing spring cereals and a livery.  SGRPID deem it as 74 Hectares of Region 1, with 13 Hectares in an area named the Moss of Region 2.

Livestock – At present the farm carries 40+ suckler cows with followers and a flock of 150 ewes and gimmers.  There is an array of buildings, slatted courts, straw bedded yards as well as cubicles.

Soil Types – These vary drastically over the farm, from peaty, non calcerous gleys, with some podzolic rankers, with Derivatives of Dalradian Schists and red sandstones.

First Meeting – Improving Farm Soils and Making Best Use of Nutrients

Our guest speaker at the first meeting was Agriculutral Consultant Seamus Donnelly.  Seamus has a long history and vast experience of soils and drainage.

The majority of the farm was soil sampled to determine the pH, P and K status of the fields initially.  The results indicated that there are areas requiring attention, however remediation cost is an issue.  Seamus advised to address the lime in stages, pay attention to P and K, also make the best use of slurry and farmyard manure, using this to build up the soil structure.

  • Keep it simple
  • Take time to assess cutting, grazing and cropping of fieldsKintyre SNN photo shows a group of people in a field looking at drainage in soil
  • Analyse well mixed slurry
  • pH slow rectification
  • New drainage – take advice and identify old systems

Part of this workshop was also to look at drainage, and two fields were picked for reasons of:

  • The range of soil type
  • Their drainage problems

Seamus gave a very captivating presentation with practical sessions to explain to the group how to assess soil structure, examine drains and work out outfalls.  He also discussed the mechanical methods available to aid soil structure and improve drainage.

Referring to the handouts produced by Seamus, and Technical Notes, each demonstration point (hole) was discussed in detail.  Key messages related to soil structure, smell, root depth – all important for productivity.

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Looking to the future, PLANET will be utilised to record all the activity for crop years 2016 and 2017 to then assess where savings can be made, utilising slurry and farmyard manure to reduce non organic applications.  Grass seed mixes will be discussed at the next meeting, to promote the inclusion of clovers to reduce nitrogen and improve grazing.

Second Meeting – Soil Nutrients: The Building Blocks of Productivity

Agricultural Consultant & GPS soil sampling expert David Ross came along to the second meeting of the Kintyre Network.  David delivered a thorough and detailed approach to show why it is so important to get the basics correct.

Valuing Your Soils LogoA second round of soil sampling highlighted what the various crops had taken from the soil in P & K, especially the field of oats.  Leaching, with the inclement summer also had a bearing on the nutrient status of the ground.  David reiterated how important it is to check soils and the need for using a spade to check your soil structure!  Download a copy of the Valuing Your Soils booklet to find out more.  It contains a copy of the VESS (Visual Examination of Soil Structure) scoring sheet which can be used to help you assess the structural condition of your soil.  Nutrient status of soils can vary with soil type and whether or not the soil structure is open or compacted.  Sandy soils are more prone to leaching soil nutrients; compaction doesn’t allow for effective water movement or aeration through the soil.  Improving soil structure can help improve crop yields through better nutrient uptake & will be a benefit to your farm business.

Soil pH

Soil pH impacts the plant availability of the P and K fertilisers you apply and has a role in determining N use efficiency.  David explained the importance of soil pH and getting indeces correct between 5.8 and 6.2.  P&K are the key nutrients which, when corrected in conjunction with pH, maximise the utilisation of inorganic fertilisers. Chart showing the availability of different soil nutrients at varying pH

Sulphur as a soil nutrient was discussed, and an experiment currently being conducted by David highlighted the benefits to yield from inputted sulphur.  You can read more about soil sulphur in Technical Note: (TN685) Sulphur Recommendations for Crops.

The value of knowing the nutrient value of your farm slurry & FYM was discussed.  Testing should be representative and samples should be taken at multiple locations on a dung midden and slurry tested should be well mixed before a sample is taken and ideally tested as close as is possible to when spreading is anticipated.  These actions will provide the most accurate results to allow you to calculate correctly the nutrients being applied and allow for a more accurate nutrient budget.  This can also help save costs through reduced artificial fertiliser purchases above what is actually required.

These issues will be addressed at the Rhoin, especially the values of FYM and slurry.  Information is still being recorded using the PLANET software programme to help record and manage the farm nutrient budget.

Final Meeting

Paul Hargreaves, a grass researcher, and Gavin Elrick, a soils and drainage expert were the two guest speakers at the third and final meeting of the Kintyre Soil & Nutrient Network group.  VESS score chart

Paul explained the importance of good soil management in order to maximise crop growth.  He led the group through the process of undertaking a VESS – a Visual Examination of Soil Structure.  A VESS assessment provides information about the soil structure on the farm.  It is a simple activity, requiring only a spade and about 10 minutes.  Often when looking at the soil structure potential problems can also be seen e.g. compaction, low microbial activity or low organic matter content and drainage problems.  Paul highlighted that the VESS field guides can be found within the Valuing Your Soils booklet, where there is a lot of additional information on how best to manage your soil and often the most valuable asset you have on the farm.

Paul has been involved with research at the Crichton where he has been looking at the benefits of controlled traffic systems in grassland systems.  By moving towards this type of management, the impacts of compaction have been reduced and a notable increase in soil productivity has been recorded.  Paul discussed the practicalities of the management and the results he’s seen so far.

Gavin discussed the importance of pH management in order to ensure maximum nutrient uptake by crops. Regular soil sampling and applications of lime where required will help to improve the uptake of nutrients such as phosphate, potash & sulphur.  Gavin also highlighted the importance of testing the FYM and slurry produced on farm when creating and managing the farm nutrient plan.  PLANET is a free to download and use software available to Scottish farmers to help manage a dynamic farm nutrient plan.  Planet Scotland Logo

Both Paul and Gavin referred back to the two previous meetings of the group and reminded everyone of the importance of maintaining efficient drainage systems, knowing the farm soil type, selecting the correct grass seed mix and managing effective nutrient plans to allow for replenishment of the nutrients that are taken off during harvest e.g. potash following silage crops.


There are a total of 12 SNN groups throughout Scotland and meetings are free to attend and open to all and you don’t have to have attended any of the previous meetings to go along. You can read meeting notes and case studies of previous SNN farms at Farming & Water Scotland‘s webpage.

For dates of SNN events, find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @FASScot Facebook logo Twitter logo

Read the meeting notes from the first meeting at Rhoin Farm here  and the second event  here.

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Drainage expert Seamus Donnelly discussing soil structure

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