The farming year 2018 – 2019

IN

The farming year is gathering pace here on Islay. Last weekend saw Islay’s Young Farmers running a ploughing match at Rockside on the Rhinns and soil is being broken, turned, and groomed all over the island ready for planting. In a spell of dry, bright weather, farmers are seeding their fields at the same time as our Scottish mainland growers, which is often rare due to our conditions on the west coast.

Reviewing the harvest of last summer, Production Director Allan Logan is full of praise and empathy for our growers. Against all the odds, they managed to increase the tonnage of malting barley delivered compared to 2017, even though there were fewer of them.

“Last year the weather was very challenging,” he recounts. “It was an unusually dry and hot summer, with lots of heat in late June and early July, which can burn the plant. Then we had rain, but at the wrong time; you need to get a bit of moisture when it’s growing. It was ripe at the end of August, then from the start of September to the end of October the weather was very broken for two months with rarely two dry days in a row, so harvesting became a challenge.”

Production Director Allan Logan in Islay barley

New growers Jim and Rab McHarrie planted ten acres in a field above the distillery last year. Despite the crop having beautiful big heads when it came to harvest time, the barley had unfortunately fallen over by the time they could borrow a combine. Jim’s wife Sharon, who runs the hospitality department at the distillery, explained;

“We knew the challenge we were getting into when we decided to try growing for Bruichladdich. It’s always a race against the elements with ‘the Islay summer’, we just couldn’t get a use of the small combine before the weather broke and the barley was all but lost.

“The barley was undersown with grass so in the end we baled it all with the heads on and left it as mixed silage which we’ll feed to the cattle at Gortanachuirn. In the end, it wasn’t a wasted experiment and we’ll try again this year!”

Looking ahead, Allan shares some detail. “There will be a mix of recommended varieties this year including Laureate, Sienna, Sassy and Planet. Planet is recommended for brewing but Ian McKerrell tried it previously and it grew well here, so some of our other farming partners have been happy to take it on.”

Sowing in new ground at Tormisdale

Continuing on in the theme of farming family-ties, and coming back to last weekend’s action,  we may be adding a champion ploughman as a new grower this year. Angus Glover, son of Fiona who also works in our hospitality team, has held the title for the open conventional plough class since he first won it last year, aged 13. He and his father Will are keen to take on the risks of producing malting barley. The Glover’s land in the southwest of the Rhinns isn’t too deep, with rocky outcrops, but the family grow barley each year for the straw, so they can but try to get it to malting standards.

We’re rooting for them, and for all our farming partners, as we proudly embark into our 15th year of raising and distilling Islay barley.

Angus and Will Glover, at the Islay Ploughing Match

Ploughing match carpark

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