This past year has certainly been a bit of a rollercoaster for us here at Ballicherry, both on the farm and in our everyday lives!

There are things we would love to remember, such as the fantastic dry spring which got the spring cereals off to a great start leading to good yields, and getting to celebrate Calum and I’s wedding on the farm in July. However, the second half of the year was definitely six months we would rather forget, with horrendous wet conditions at harvest causing extreme difficulty with combining and baling, and impacting negatively on grain quality.

We also suffered the sad blow of losing my father-in-law, Allan Young at the start of December, aged 61, after a year long battle with cancer.

Allan farmed at Bunchrew Farm outside Inverness since the mid-1980s, though was originally from Cumbernauld, and was well respected in the livestock world for his Simmental cross cattle, Texel and Blackfaced sheep. He will be greatly missed by many in the farming community and beyond.

Getting back on topic, the last few weeks have been busy getting started with on and off-farm seed dressing. By the middle of February, we hope to have completed dressing the 500 tonnes of Concerto, Sienna, and Chronicle spring barley we grow and dress on contract for Scotgrain.

So far we have dressed approximately 120 tonnes of seed and this will hopefully start to leave the farm soon in order to free up shed space.

Following this, the grain dresser will go out on the road with our Fastrac 3230 to dress certified and farm saved seed on farms in the local area. This last week has seen us firming up decisions for varieties for next year’s seed and malting barley.

Concerto seems to be losing its grip as main malting variety due to the new varieties' ability to produce bigger yields, and we had hoped that by now there would have emerged one clear successor variety which would have simplified our harvest storage and drying logistics. However, this hasn’t been the case so far and 2018 looks to become even more of a logistical nightmare than 2017, with plans for four seed barley, two malting barley and two seed wheat varieties.

In regard to the seed barley, Laureate and Sassy will be new for us for next year, and will be joining Concerto and possibly Chronicle, both of which we have grown for seed and malting for a number of years. On the malting front, we will be sticking with Concerto as we appreciate its consistent ability to make malting grade, and are also putting in around 16ha of Laureate.

Like most people in our area we have done a grand total of two acres of ploughing this winter, and considering how busy we are going to be with grain dressing the next few months we decided to purchase a second plough. We bought a second-hand six-furrow semi-mounted Kvernland which working alongside our existing five-furrow KV should speed things up in the spring.

I attended our local arable benchmarking meeting mid December with growers from the Black Isle, Easter Ross and Caithness, as Dad had been struck down with a dreadful case of manflu, for which he reported the only remedy was booking an all-inclusive week in Lanzarote!

The benchmarking meeting gave us a good indicator into where we are managing to rein in costs, and pointers to where we may be able to improve. One of our biggest savings has been moving away from permanent employees to using self-employed workers for peak times.

Machinery costs seem to be our biggest fixed cost, but considering the ever increasing costs of equipment we can’t really see any way to reduce this further, other than equipment sharing, and this may be something we look into with more detail in the future, though considering our geographical location on a peninsula this limits feasible options for sharing.