As this is my first article for this column, I will start by giving a background of who we are and what we do.

I farm some 1200 acres along side my father, John senior on the north coast of Caithness. Our business is a mixed enterprise consisting of suckler cows, breeding ewes and spring cereals. Our land is currently split between 60% arable and 40% temporary pasture, both of which are on a long-term rotation where possible.

The vast majority of the land is ploughable and fit for cereal growing, with 80% of our soils classed as heavy clay and the remainder comprising more loam and of freer draining nature.

Broynach Farm is our home farm and base of our business, located two miles east of Thurso and only a stone’s throw away from Dunnet Head – the most northerly point on the British mainland. The majority of our cattle are housed at Broynach where the grain is also stored but we have land spread out within a 12-mile radius, mainly along the north coast of the county.

In general, I would have to say farming this far north is good. We are lucky to have strong, fertile soils and statistically we have below-average rainfall (although it never seems this way).

The Scottish Farmer: There has been a bit of snow about at Broynach as John and his six-month-old daughter Anna, are having to clearThere has been a bit of snow about at Broynach as John and his six-month-old daughter Anna, are having to clear (Image: web)

It can be a harsh place to farm, and wind would be our biggest drawback. This is, of course, exacerbated by our coastal location.

The configuration of the growing season here also limits the type of farming systems possible, when we have a seven-month winter on average. As a result, we have created a simple livestock and spring cereal system. Lambing and calving doesn’t start here until the last days of April and we steer clear of winter-sown cereals and root crops that have a high risk of failure.

That said, we do have a fantastic growing season when it does arrive with plenty rainfall to keep crops and grass fresh, coupled with long summer daylight hours although sunlight itself is limited due to the frequency of overcast days.

In my earlier years I was always under the illusion that Caithness was not a good place to farm and that further south was better. However, we don’t get the flooding, intense heat and drought that has been affecting large parts of the country in recent years, and I am beginning to think we are may be situated in a nice little corner here.

However, one of the biggest challenges we have in this part of the country is our distance from the marketplace which is becoming extremely costly when transporting anything to or from the farm.

Being located 120 miles north of Inverness, every input and output has to travel a long distance. The local dairy industry has fallen victim to our isolation over the years and we are mindful of how the inevitable rising cost of haulage will affect our own business going forward.

Our farm system is quite typical and traditional of the area. In years gone by, the farm would only grown enough cereals to feed and bed livestock but now we sell 80% of our grain on malting barley and gluten-free oat contracts, with 50% of the straw also being sold.

We currently also take part in the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) and have managed to apply this within our system with little disruption to production.

Being mixed farmers, the age old question of whether to up corn, down horn or vice versa often crops up.

There is no doubt that arable profit margins per hectare have been much higher than that of our grassland over the past five years.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, we are lucky to be supplying grain on some value-added contracts which is holding our arable enterprise in good stead. Secondly, the livestock side of the operation is not as productive as it maybe could be.

The issue here could be that we have been focusing too much on individual animal performance rather than kilograms of meat produced per hectare. This is something I’m trying to address with a change of breeding policy but I will touch more on that in future articles.

There is no doubt that if our whole acreage was arable it would create a better work/life balance but as I mentioned, the seasons are short here and there is only so much harvest one can handle!

Looking back over the last two harvests there has hardly been a day past the end of September that has been fit for harvesting. Thankfully our harvests were completed over those two seasons in good time, but for a county that often relies on a good October for harvesting late ripening spring cereals, these trends are quite concerning.

The only way to cope with these tight drilling, spraying and harvesting windows is to run our own equipment and that machinery needs to be well over capacity to ensure the task can be completed before the weather breaks. For example, a combine the size we run would be expected to handle double our acreage further south.

To sum things up, I quite like our farming system and location. I’m extremely lucky to have alongside me my wife Margaret, six-month-old daughter Anna, my parents, and brother Iain all here on the farm. In this column I hope to share the ups and downs, what works and what doesn’t, along with the successes and mistakes made along the way.