Harvest house on the islands to the west and north

This week The Scottish Farmer has caught up with some of the most northerly and westerly crops in the country, as growers in Shetland and North Uist tell us.

Aimee Budge from Bigton in Shetland finished her 50 acres of spring barley this month after starting cutting on September 4, 10 days before 2021.

“We would have produced about two tonnes per acre on the three varieties of two-row spring barley,” Budge explained. “We planted Wagon, which has proven itself here in Shetland. We also put in Propoino which we under-seeded with grass – it’s a shorter variety which helps the grass come up. And we tried a new Planet variety for the first time to get a bit more yield and straw.

“On the 30 acres of regularly planted barley, we have baled 30 four-foot round bales which will be used for cattle bedding and for lambing. The barley came out quite moist at 22% to 25% moisture content and was straight in the shed to be propcorned for winter rations. Unlike many other places in the country, we had a very wet summer. »

The underseeded crop was harvested with the head raised a foot and a half off the ground, so only the barley heads and some straw passed through the combine. After that, the remaining stubble and grass were mowed, baled and rolled up. This was done for two reasons – firstly it allows the grass to pass better in the fall and secondly it provides good forage for the Saler cross-bred Shorthorn cows that have overwintered before calving.

The rotation on Bigton is two or three years of barley followed by five years of grass, then a forage crop before returning to cereals. These must be spring crops because winter cereals are destroyed by salt spray from the sea. This year.

Crops were cut with Mrs Budge driving a Fiat Laverda combine harvester with a 13ft head. The rest of the harvest team were sister Kirsty Budge, young local farmer Liam Jamieson and experienced farmhand Callum Gray, who flies in every year from Aberdeenshire to help bring the harvest home.

Further south and west on the island of North Uist, Angus MacDonald of Ardbhan Highland sheepfold has also completed his harvest for 2022.

Mr MacDonald said: “This year has been a bit different as we have grown 2.5 acres of barley beer for the local North Uist distillery to make whiskey and gin. The wet and dull summer did not help the harvest much and did not weigh on the grain.

“I think we produced three tons from the whole trial plot. Usually we aim for 4 tons per hectare. Besides barley we also grow about 20 acres of grain every year. The harvest is for grain, but also especially straw, because transporting the bales to the island is very expensive.This year, we received 200 bales in the fields, because we specifically grow varieties with long stems to maximize the straw.

Mr. MacDonald’s 20 acres of grain didn’t just consist of barley, as he also grows traditional oats and rye that have been sown on the Western Isles for generations. He said: “I would say there would be around 60 acres of grain in total grown on the island between all the smallholders. But I think there would also be cereal on Lewis, Harris, Benbecula and Barra.

“We fertilize the fields with seaweed which we bury for about a month to let it decompose a bit. The first application of seaweed is at sowing in the first week of April, then we start again at the end of May.”

Mr. MacDonald is accompanied by his son Alexander at harvest when the 1986 John Deere combine harvests crops with a 12-foot cutter bar.