Our 2021 started quietly at Ballicherry with a few days spent doing livestock feeding essentials and finishing off the festive chocolates. Though we missed the usual Hogmanay celebrations it was actually quite nice to not have anywhere to be or to spend the first day of the year with a splitting headache...

With January’s focus on ‘#Regenuary’ a term coined by a company called ‘The Ethical Butcher’ which has been all over social media in response to the usual ‘#Veganuary’ trend, it’s led us to look more into the concept of regenerative agriculture in both our arable and livestock enterprises, and how we make them fit together more.

We already participate in the agri-environment climate (AEC) scheme with grass strips in arable fields and cover crops. However, we are still using a lot of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides; we are still ploughing everything, and we rent ground out for both carrots and potatoes which we know are heavily reliant on pesticides and cause issues with soil structure, so maybe we aren’t as regenerative as we’d like to be.

Up until now, we had grass fields and arable fields and the two never mixed. What we are trying to do now though, is bring all the fields into a rotation of some sort which may include grass, barley, wheat, oats, cover crops, oilseed rape, carrots and potatoes.

Obviously some fields are in grass for a reason and won’t be suitable for roots, wheat or oilseeds but by adding in oats, barley and cover crops, and re-seeding grass more regularly we hope this will make the grass more productive.

By having break crops like cover crops and oats along with livestock grazing in the traditionally arable fields this should make them more productive too, ultimately helping us to reduce inputs, therefore reducing our carbon footprint without reducing yields.

We’re going to increase our ewe numbers gradually by keeping more home-bred ewe lambs as replacements to try and make the temporary grass have as big of impact as possible.

Moving away from ploughing is a trickier one but we are definitely open minded to trialling different establishment equipment.

Away from the blue sky thinking and back to reality, the last few weeks have been spent at field drainage, dosing and sorting sheep and starting to dress seed barley.

We grow the seed on contract for Scotgrain which they then dress on farm with their mobile seed dresser. We have firmed up our plans for malting barley varieties for next year with both Sassy and Diablo being grown for seed and Sassy for malting. Having just two varieties of barley and one variety of wheat, Skyscraper, should make things much easier at harvest, as opposed to the four varieties of barley and two of wheat we had last year.

We brought our remaining lambs and cull ewes inside to finish them a few weeks ago and the first 30 are going to Dingwall mart this Tuesday. The remainder will go in a fortnight, with whatever aren’t fit for the prime sale going to the store sale the day after.

All fertiliser has now been purchased for the year and we have decided to do a wee trial between two different base fertilisers for the spring barley. We had been using a 10-15-21 + 20% SO3 as our SB base fertiliser and then top dressing it with 100kg/ha of muirate of potash (MoP) but through our benchmarking group it looked like we may have been wasting money on excess SO3, as our liquid nitrogen fertiliser was also supplying an adequate amount at top dressing.

This year we will be drilling half the crops with 10-11-30 + 7.5% SO3 and the other half with 9-15.5-31 + 9% SO3, and though a bit dearer, these products will hopefully supply enough MoP and save us a pass with the fertiliser spreader which will be both cost effective and environmentally friendly!