Growing barley at Coull Farm

IN

According to Andrew Jones, ‘If you go by the textbook, we shouldn’t even be growing barley here.’

Andrew’s father Donald has been farming at Coull for 40 years. Their land meets the Atlantic on three sides – to the South at Machir Bay, to the North at Saligo, and to the West at Coull Point. The ground there is good and fertile, but he describes it as a mixture of three of the most challenging kinds of soil. ‘We’ve got sand which is bad in the wet and it’s bad in the dry because it blows, and you can lose a crop in no time with blowing sand. We’ve got peat, which obviously is wet, so it’s hard to grow in peat because you can’t get the weather. And then we’ve got rock, which is hard on machinery.’

The barley is now just past flag-leaf stage, when the main leaf comes out and the grains stand upright on the head. ‘It’s had far better growing this year, so far, than the last few years; this year it went into the ground and then it rained and then it got heat, so perfect conditions to start with,’ says Andrew. Strong winds soon after planting had caused 3 foot drifts of sand at the edge of the field in front of the farmsteading, but the barley has eventually come through well there. The sandiness of the soil seems to have helped the field borders too, which are bursting with wild members of the daisy family and carrot family, plant families which feature in the Botanist Gin.

Andrew Jones Islay Barley Farmer

They have always grown barley, but before the distillery re-vitalised the production of uber-provenance Islay-grown malt, the crop went into fattening cattle. Their barley straw to this day is used as bedding for their cows and sheep. Several fields at Coull, depending on their rotations, are down to grass for the livestock. ‘Silage to a certain extent is weather dependent, but you can get on with it if you have to in bad weather, whereas barley, you need to have proper weather or you’re in trouble.’

For now, ‘the field down above the shore, that’s the best we’ve had for years! If you see it on a good day, sort of 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, when the sun’s getting up, it looks tremendous.’ Andrew reads the colour of the field, and watches for when the heads of grain go down, to know when harvest is close.

‘What’s needed now is some sunshine with some heat with it to keep it turning, keep it changing colour, keep it ripening.’ For him and all our farmers this year, let’s hope we get it.

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