A COUNTY farm has hosted farmers and experts to highlight the way in which it delivers a cost-effective arable system.

Farmers and other members of the agricultural community gathered at Castleton Farm, east of North Berwick, last month for the first meeting of its new Monitor Farm programme.

The aim of the programme is to help farms reach full economic, social and environmental sustainability by optimising production.

Castleton Farm, owned by Jo and Stuart McNicol, was selected to be East Lothian’s Monitor Farm this year, taking part in a four-year programme in which farmers and experts will work together to assess farms’ performance, explore opportunities and develop solutions to challenges.

Attendees gained insights into the farm’s operations, including the crops grown, use of data and technology, and the focus on soil health.

At the meeting, Stuart explained his money-saving approach to growing crops, only ploughing if needed, and using a strip-till drill.

East Lothian Courier: Stuart McNicol Stuart McNicol

As a result, he uses only 5l/ha of fuel compared to 30l/ha for other combined cultivations.

Stuart also takes steps to reduce compaction, as there is a strong focus on soil health at Castleton, using variable rate applications at drilling and for applying fertilisers and lime.

Stuart said: “I am trying to make life easier for myself. There’s only me and one tractor. It’s about being able to speak to people and explain why you’re doing what you do. It’s knowledge transfer; trying to make things better not just for me, but for the industry.”

Castleton has also shown its success through farm diversification projects.

Stuart’s wife Jo manages the farm’s agritourism enterprises, including a wedding venue plus a bakery kitchen and the well-known Drift cafe, with planning permission just approved for a new dog-walking facility.

The farm has also diversified into storage units for let, and the McNicols have recently planted 2,000 fruit trees for juicing and future cidery.

Jo spoke at the meeting about the opportunities for farmers to develop the agritourism side of the business, with specific reference to “food-to-fork” initiatives.

Stuart concluded by praising the Monitor Farm project, sharing his enthusiasm for a scheme that can help Scottish agriculture succeed in the future.