A LATE spring seems to have finally arrived – at least for us in the Black Isle – and we are busy finishing up dressing seed both at home and out and about.
We’ve also been getting along with ploughing, top dressing and getting the sheds ready for lambing, with two of our regular self-employed workers helping us out. We’ve only got approximately 80ha ploughed, so there’s still a lot of do, but it’s a start.
Sowing is going to be late this year, with it looking unlikely we will have anything in the ground before April. Dad finally got the sprayer out last week to spray off stubbles before carrots and to spray off a grass ley which we are putting into spring barley this year for the first time in 10 years. 
We are tending to take our marginal fields back into part of the arable rotation, so we will crop them with spring barley for a couple of years then return them to grass for four to five years.
It worked well last year and provided us with a reasonable yielding spring barley crop that we then drilled with an autumn fodder crop for our lambs. This has the added benefit that we will be ensuring we regularly re-seed grass through necessity and don’t put it off. 
We got our OSR tissue sampled for light leaf spot last month and the results came back that 10% of the crop was infected. So, once the crop grows on a bit and looks more robust, we will be going on with a light leaf spot spray.
Our local arable business group (ABG) has met twice in the last month or so. One session involved going round our wheat crops with a quadrant and counting numbers of plants and worms in a 20cm x 20cm x 20cm sample.
Worms seem to have been a hot topic for a few years due to their ability to give a good indication of soil pH, waterlogging, compaction and organic matter, and therefore the soil’s current yield potential. 
Looking at the literature, though, it seems high worm numbers are thought to be indicative of only a 10-20% or so increase in yield on light, or medium soils, like ours, compared to high numbers of worms indicating up to 40% increase in yield in heavy soils. 
The field of wheat which we dug our sample from had only one or two earth worms, compared to one of our neighbours having more than 11 in his! We wondered was this due to our field going into wheat following potatoes, as opposed to his going in after a cereal. It will be interesting to see how the crops all yield at harvest time. 
With such a focus on soil health at the moment, but finding our climate and rotation unsuitable for min-till or no-till, we are keen to continue trying to improve our soil health through whatever means possible. 
As I mentioned, we are trying to keep on top of pH with regular soil mapping, liming and regular dung applications. Last year, we joined the Agri-environment and Climate Scheme (AeCS), so this year we will be putting in 20ha of green manure which we drill this April/May and plough in next March. 
It will be interesting to see how this affects worm numbers and ultimately future yields, or if it’s all a bit of a gimmick. We are yet to decide what types of plants we are going to use for the green manure, but want to avoid anything that can carry over clubroot, or set seed and cause trouble with our future cereal seed crops. 
The other ABG meeting we had included a useful session with Heather Wildman, from Saviour Associates, who discussed preparing for the future. She really emphasised the importance of planning ahead and positive thought. 
Following this, at Ballicherry we were adopting a ‘good vibes only’ approach – which was working well until all three of us were working at sheep together…