Case Study: Ross Mitchell
Ross Mitchell, Castleton Farm, near Laurencekirk.
Ross Mitchell runs Castleton Farm in partnership with his father Murray. The business covers over 600 ha, specialising in strawberries, raspberries, cherries and blueberries, supplying Marks & Spencers. Ross and Murray have some root crops and daffodils, although the land is predominantly managed for soft fruit production under polytunnels.
Alleviating soil compaction
Soil compaction is an issue and one Ross and his team would like to reduce or eliminate. In 2018 Ross moved to no-tillage and is giving this a try. If successful, this could help to make the farm more resilient and help to reduce the risk of compaction whilst also improving farm soils.
Ross has been looking at various methods of establishing green cover crops in autumn 2019.
Using a mix of mustard, raddish, vetch and rye, Ross tried three different methods of establishment.
- Method one was to establish the crop using the direct drill to drill the green cover mix straight into the stubble after harvesting spring barley.
- Method two was to broadcast the green cover crop onto the stubble, followed with a straw rake. (Same day as method one)
- Method three was to broadcast the green cover crop into the standing spring barley crop two weeks before harvest.
In all three trials the straw from the previous crop was chopped and the green cover crops received 25 kgs/ha of Nitrogen to aid the breakdown of the straw and establishment of the green cover crops. A dressing of slug pellets was also made to all three trials.
Photos of the plots taken at the start of November are shown below.
As can be seen from the pictures this year, which has been a wet autumn, has shown that the broadcast cover crops have established much better than the drilled cover crops.
In addition getting the cover crop established a fortnight before harvest allows for at least a fortnights additional growth (probably three weeks by the time you can get the cover crop sown after harvest) at a very growthy time of year in August.
Ross continues to establish cover crops with a high level of success at Castleton, given the farms northerly latitude. He has also been sowing cereal crops earlier in the season so that he can manage winter growth by grazing them with sheep through the winter. Below are several observations from Castleton following a successful harvest in 2022.
A mild winter to date has provided some unseasonal growth at Castleton which Ross is trying to utilise to benefit his soils. This is the latest update from Castleton taken on 17th January 2022.
As summer has arrived, so has peak season for Ross and his berries. However, on the arable side of the farm things have been a little quieter. This is the latest update from Castleton taken on 21st July 2021.
Read more here.
Despite the catchy weather Ross has made great progress with spring work, with some earlier sown spring barley already emerging. Here are several observations from 5th April 2021.
Read more here.
A quieter time of year for Castleton farm, as the last of the berries are picked and all the winter crops are sown. Ross has been focusing on a carbon audit, helping identify areas to reduce emissions on farm. Below are several observations from 23rd November 2020 which includes the performance of the cover crop mixes sown and sowing into standing stubbles.
Ross continues to make positive strides towards regenerative farming, focusing on his green manure mixes and cover crop establishment. Below are a number of observations from August 2020 which discuss a range of topics including green manure dessication, the pros and cons of a crimper and broadcasting cover crops.
Ross Mitchell from Castleton Farm is now a couple of years into his reduced tillage system. Ross has been experimenting in a number of ways with cover crops and green manures. Read the latest update from Castleton Farm in June 2020 which includes homegrown and purchased cover crop mixes and methods and timing of prepping the ground prior to sowing the next crop.