Bertha, Icelandic visitors and a difficult harvest

I’m sitting down to write this blog on the last day of August. There’s plenty of harvest work to do but we’re rained off again. We are enduring the third difficult harvest in four years, with 120 hectares still to cut.

Heston Baling On One Of The Few Beautiful Evenings This August

Heston baling on one of the few beautiful evenings this August.

It all started off so well when we picked up the oilseed rape from the swath on 25 July. It was coming off the combine at an unbelievable 8 % – unheard of in this area. At that point we thought the harvest would be done by late August. However, sadly, August has been a cold,  start-stop affair with continuous showers and the tail end of hurricane Bertha dumping almost 60 mm of rain in one 36-hour period.

A bus load of Icelandic farmers were blown in by Bertha to visit us and although the planned farm tour had to be abandoned, we spent an hour in the grain store having a question and answer session on spring barley, which is a developing crop  in Iceland, mainly grown for animal feed. It was interesting hearing how they manage to farm in such a cold climate and they were very impressed by the range of crops we can grow here on The Black Isle. The group had attended Orkney Show the previous day, which is also known as the Whisky Olympics. I think a few lads had attempted to win gold medals there but they still managed a dram before they left us!

Icelandic Farmers at Black Isle

Icelandic farmers visiting us in August.

Oilseed rape yields have been disappointing, with the field I so proudly showed off at the Monitor Farm open day yielding fully 650 kg per hectare less than one which I was too embarrassed to present which did a reasonable 3.75 t/hectare. After this disappointing result, I decided to drop oil seed rape this year but on second thoughts it does spread the workload at harvest. So in an attempt to cut costs and boost yield we have drilled straight into the stubble with a Simba Express operated by management group members Mark and Neil. Furthermore I have gone a step further and I am going to ask the Monitor Farm management group to come up with a plan on how we raise the OSR yields on Ballicherry as I am aware that some of the group are achieving around 5 t/hectare.

Spring barley yields have been at the opposite end of the scale with many fields averaging over 7.5 t/hectare and even some poorer fields suffering from compaction producing over 6 t/hectare. Wheat is yet to be cut and is causing concern due to continuous soakings. Last night I found a few sprouted grains in our Viscount and we really need to combine it urgently!

I’ve managed to keep the grain drier going at three batches a day, churning out 50 tonnes per day. We haven’t combined any grain over 21% moisture so far and our wee drier can handle that comfortably. With the price of grain where it is, the much talked about replacement drier may have to be pushed back another year but we’ll get a better idea when everything is cut and the maltings reveal their prices! Added to that, the maltings discovered a week before their intake was due to start, that the boiler on the drier was burst. The result is that we’ve had to dry all our malting barley so they can move it. Furthermore there is a huge back log of barley sitting on farms.

On a stranger note, Caroline and the lads who come to the Ballicherry on the care farming project made some rather good scarecrows in the spring. Before harvest they went to remove them from the fields and take them home. The team parked at the gate of a roadside field and the lads were sent into the crop to retrieve the scarecrow. Within minutes there was much shouting and screaming with the lads beating the retreat from the field in a state of shock. Caroline was sent in to witness the terrible crime scene: at the foot of the smiling scarecrow was the staring head of a roe buck surrounded by a pile of fresh, bloody, intestines! Black magic, witchcraft and supernatural powers were all blamed for the atrocity but only the scarecrow knew the true story, and the recipe for venison stew!



Black Isle growers Brian and Caroline Matheson from Ballicherry Farm in Balblair run a mixed enterprise of 332 hectares, consisting of 190 hectares of spring barley grown for certified seed and malting, 42 hectares of winter wheat grown for certified seed, 25 hectares of oilseed rape and 35 hectares of potato and carrot lets, together with 40 hectares of permanent grassland carrying 100 ewes, 100 over-wintered cattle and 25 suckler cows. The farm also carries out carrot growing and mobile grain dressing contracting operations. Caroline operates a Care Farming enterprise which runs alongside the commercial farming operation.