Difficult summer So Far For Islay’s Barley Farmers
This has been a difficult year so far for Islay’s barley farmers – and many others the length and breadth of Scotland. Memories of the long hot days of 2014 are becoming very hazy as the pesky jet stream sits obstinately to the south of the UK. It has been there all ‘summer’ long so far, pulling down arctic air from the north and setting off an endless sequence of low pressure systems that have been miserably dumping their moisture on us all.
Rainfall levels this summer have been around double the average, but perhaps an even bigger issue has been the low temperatures. We would expect a seasonal average of around 17 degrees right now. It has been around 11.
Late Malting Barley Crop But Quality Excellent
The malting barley was sown on time, mostly in April, but it sat under the chilly deluge for a long time before it finally got going. The farmers now reckon that we are around 2-3 weeks behind where we ‘should’ be. Happily however, the news is not all bad, because the barley may be very late, but the quality appears to be excellent. The crop is dense, the ears are large and well populated with grains.
There are still many country miles to travel before the harvest is home. The grains have not fully developed or filled out yet, let along started to dry and harden ready for the combine. There is an awful long way to go.
Problems With Late Harvests
The problems with a late harvest are many and varied. The longer the crop is in the field the greater the losses to Islay’s abundant wildlife will be. Clouds of crows and pigeons will have additional weeks in which to help themselves, but the big losses will be to greylag geese and marauding herds of red deer. And then there is the weather, the stoms that inevitably batter the island around the equinox, the shortening hours of daylight, and ever fewer periods of weather dry enough to get the combines and grain trailers onto the fields. We have a nerve wracking few months ahead…
Coull Farm is right on the western shore of the Rhinns of Islay. The field in these pictures overlooks the Atlantic Ocean to the north of Machir Bay. Andrew Jones also grows barley on the Ballinaby fields which are a few hundred metres further inland.
Craig and Tony Archibald farm at Craigens to the east of Loch Gruinart. Their field of malting barley is planted in an area of good ground between the wild deer ‘forest’, (rough ground which stretches way to the north and east), and a bank that is too steep to farm. It has not been ploughed or fertlilized for many years, if ever, and is very biodiverse.
Raymond Fletcher has planted malting barley at a number of locations on Dunlossit Estate including Keills, Storakaig, Cattadale, Nosebridge and also Kynagarry, which is probably the highest field of grain on Islay.
Our pictures were of course taken on one of the few sunny days we have had so far. The rain is lashing down again as we write this. However, hope springs eternal…