Sydney Gauld’s farm overlooks Kirkwall Bay in Orkney. He is one of four bere barley farmers with whom we currently work closely, in partnership with Orkney University’s Agronomy Institute. John Wishart from the Institute (L) and Sydney (R) are pictured above in July this year. Bere barley is a heritage grain, more adaptable to poor soils and cold climates than modern varieties of barley. It has genetic attributes that could become highly valuable in the face of climate change. The extraordinary flavours of a finished bere barley whisky justify the efforts and energy that go into raising the somewhat awkward crop, but achieving a viable harvest for malting is not a given… Here is Sydney’s footage of an entire growing season, one photo an hour from sowing in the second week in April until harvest in early September, so you can share in its dramas. Plus his first hand account of what it has been like being one of our experimental, much appreciated, bere barley farmers.
Sydney Gauld: “Growing bere has been an interesting experience over the 10 years at Quoyberstane. Picking a relatively dry field so that you can get it ploughed and sown in good time in the spring. Also picking a field that the fertility is not to high, ideally a field that’s had barley growing on it for a few years to bring the fertility down.
“Having made the decision as to which field you are going to grow the bere in, you sow it and stand back and watch. Crossing you’re fingers that at the point it takes off and grows in height like a rocket, that it’s not going to grow to a silly height. In a good year when it does not get too long we have a chance of combining a more or less standing crop. In a year when it has grown high, you hope that when you get a strong wind that the bere bends over half way up the stock. When this happens the heads are held up of the ground. And the combine table can get in under the heads.
“Unfortunately in 2019 things did not go to plan at all. The bere was sown in good time, grew away fine to begin with, but at the point that the bere was in full growth mode, we had damp warm weather. The bere grew to well over a meter high. Then the wind and rain conspired to flatten the crop and the weather continued to work against the bere, damp and mild weather caused the seed heads to germinate. This then made the harvested crop unsuitable for malting. So what looked like being a good crop for using in various bere related products ended up going for cattle feed. Not the result being looked for, but that is farming for you. Next year is coming.”