Stella Findlay

Stella Findlay and her daughter Natasha farm 263 hectares of land in the East of Scotland near to Dunbar. They grow malting, winter and spring barley, oilseed rape, winter wheat and spring beans. “We try to spread the harvest as much as we can, because you know what the weather is like up here, it’s so changeable,” explains Stella.

Their agronomist is Peter Forster who has been working with them since 2010 and visits the farm every week. “He is very helpful indeed,” says Stella “And very reliable, he’s here every Wednesday, just like clockwork. What I like about him is that he is not pushy at all, just happy to give you good advice.”

And the guidance does not stop with the crops in the field. “Natasha went on a pre-BASIS course, and Peter has taken the time to work with her and help her with her studies,” Stella explains. “She had lots of questions which he was able to answer and he’s lent her lots of books; that has been very beneficial indeed.” Most importantly his advice on the farm seems to be paying off, “The crops always look well, you can’t give an agronomist better praise than that.”

Stella Findlay

Stella Findlay

A particular area of interest and focus for Stella is the health of her soil. “I’m very interested in my soil,” she says. “I want to do all that I can to improve the structure. I’m trying to increase the organic matter every year, so for example, I chop all my straw and put it back in. In the past all the straw from the farm was sold, every last bit. I could do the same today and make quite a lot of profit from it, but it is more important to me to enhance the soil, and at the end of the day, this is returning P and K to the land.” She has been incorporating the straw for the last ten years and is reaping the benefits. “It does take a while for the straw to break down,” she admits, “but then we started the potassium levels were shocking, and I can see a real difference now.”

Following on from this, for the last four years, Stella has been working with Aidan Monaghan from SOYL who has carried out nutrient mapping on the farm. Soil samples are taken and GPS technology is used to allow variation across the land to be accurately mapped. Each sample is analysed for phosphorus, potassium, magnesium and lime.

" Richard came to visit the farm with Peter and we discussed all the options. It was a very interesting meeting, he has an excellent knowledge of his subject, you could ask him any question and he knew the answer. " - Stella Findlay

“I find it fascinating,” says Stella. “And we have found that we’ve saved a bit of money as a result.” Using the SOYL-OPTI to control the output, the nutrients are applied at varying rates across the field. “Based on the information we have, some fields have not had anything on them, which feels very strange to me. But everything has been fine and our yields are good, so it is obviously working.”

Having reached the end of the four year cycle, the fields are due to be tested again. “We’ve just booked it in,” says Stella, “and I’m expecting that the results will be much more even, that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Because of her continuing desire to improve the quality and structure of her soil, Peter introduced Stella to Richard Barnes from Kings who has been advising her on the choice of an appropriate winter cover crop.

After a discussion with Stella and Peter, Richard was able to recommend an oil radish mixture that would suit the farm’s rotation, soil and climate. “We tried it this winter and it has done the job, I’m very pleased with the results,” says Stella.

A proportion of the farm’s grain is marketed through Frontier, and Stella enjoys the relationship she has with her farm trader Reuben Wilson. “He is a cheerful chappy, and very obliging,” says Stella “And he and Peter get on very well too, which helps so much.” As well as the advice he gives on marketing her crops, Stella reveals that Reuben also has another string to his bow “He’s the person I go to to tell me how much wheat we have in the shed,” she declares. “He’s very good at measuring grain. We use the combine monitor, but we don’t always get it to work properly, technology can be a bit of a pain sometimes, so we think we know how much we have, but we’re never sure. Reuben can have a look and he always gets it very close.”

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