Winter barley is the main crop grown on the new monitor cereal farm for NI.

Carsehall Farm, outside Ballykelly in Co Derry is owned by the Craig family with Alistair taking the lead on the monitor farm front, a UK wide programme facilitated by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).

The farm extends to 230ha across five land blocks and carries 240 pedigree Holstein cows yielding just over 10,000 litres/year.

Alastair Craig hosted a farm walk on his dairy and arable farm as part of the AHDB monitor farm programme.

On the arable side, 80ha of barley is grown to provide grain and straw for the dairy unit with a further 20ha of seed barley grown for Fane Valley. Alongside winter barley, around 20 acres of lucerne is grown for high protein silage.

Growing costs

Outlining costs to grow current crops, Alastair said that ploughing and drilling cost £100/ha with soils ploughed to a maximum depth of 5 inches for the past five years.

Fertiliser expenses came to £135/ha with trace element applications at £19.60/ha. Sprays to cover fungicides, insecticides, herbicides and growth regulators cost £127/ha.

Total costs to grow winter barley on the farm in 2021/2022 are £381/ha, or £154/acre. Like all farms, rising costs have been inescapable although Alistair did manage to insulate his business from several of those costs, and in particular, fertiliser.

The farm grows 80ha of winter barley which is fed to dairy cows.

“We forward buy fertiliser for the year ahead in the autumn. Last year, nitrogen was purchased around £400/t. It seemed like crazy money at the time, but I am glad we went ahead and bought it,” said Alistair.


Huge emphasis is placed on plant and soil health. Winter barley is fertilised to a target yield of 5t/ac with a five year average at 4.5t/ac.

Slurry is heavily used as a fertiliser with liquid nitrogen (N) fertiliser now used to top up requirements as necessary.

“Winter barley gets 160 units of N per acre with 70 units/ac coming from slurry and 90 units/ac from liquid fertiliser. Slurry is mixed with digestate and analysis shows a 1,000 gal/acre dressing supplies 31 units of N, 12 units of P and 42 units of K,” said Alistair.

“We also put slurry on stubbles, not for the N value, more so to replace the P and K offtake in straw. We don’t factor in the N from this dressing. Using slurry and dung has increased organic matter to 6% on most arable fields, but some are down at 5.2%. Grassland is around 8.5%,” he added.

This year’s harvest is three to four weeks away, but Alistair is optimistic about grain and straw yields based on wholecrop yields harvested on headlands.

“The headlands are always poor yielding, so it suits to cut three runs around the outside of all barley fields for wholecrop. We cut 19ac at the end of June and averaged 22t/ac.” Varieties to combine this year are mainly Amistar and Valerie.

The farm is managed with decisions taken that provide environmental benefits. No glyphosate is used to burn off barley before combining and it is rarely used to kill off weeds or volunteers before ploughing. Pollinator strips have been used to build up predator insects, keeping problems with aphids at bay. The farm has an ASSI habitat with nesting swans.

No granular fertiliser is used. The switch to liquid fertiliser was taken as fewer nitrogen applications are required due to a 15% increase in availability, thereby reducing fuel use and chemicals applied.

Soil health is also being maintained, with for example, machines now fitted with larger, low profile tyres to prevent compaction. “With shallow ploughing, we can’t have trailers sinking and damaging the ground,” said Alistair.