November has been another largely dry month on the Black Isle, allowing us to get started with ploughing.

With being part of the Agri Environment and Climate scheme, we have 20ha tied up in green manure which can’t be ploughed down till the spring, and another 20ha going into green manure next year, which is in retained winter stubble.

We also have 50ha in EFA green cover which can’t be ploughed until after the New Year, and another 25ha in retained winter stubble as part of the AEC scheme. Both CAP greening and AECS seem to be causing us a bit of a logistical headache in terms of when, where and how we are allowed to do things, from cultivations and seed mixtures to removing toppings from grass margins.

However, if the future of subsidies is potentially going to be heavily based on supposed environmental measures then it’s probably something we’re going to have to get used to if we want to continue receiving support.

Our tups went out on November 3, but unfortunately a neighbour’s Cheviot ram jumped in with our ewes on October 30, so we may well start lambing a few days early!

While Mam and I were busy building a pen to remove the rogue tup we heard a din coming from one of our fields. Mam went along to investigate and found people on motorbikes tearing around a stubble field without permission. They had created a dirt bike track and had made ruts nearly a foot deep in places with their bikes. I imagine this might happen frequently further south or in areas closer to larger villages or towns but we were really quite shocked by the boldness of it.

When Mam challenged them, only one agreed to take off his helmet or give his name, which is absolutely dreadful behaviour, by what she believes were men in their mid-20s. Not surprisingly, they were given a pretty short shift, and Mam returned to the tup extraction in even worse tune!

On November 22, the annual Yield Enhancement Network (YEN) awards were held in Yorkshire. This is the third year we have entered the competition and were delighted to learn we had ranked 6th, out of well over 100 entries, for yield potential with our field of Jackal winter wheat by achieving 87% of our yield potential.

Our report, which gives us data on our crop based on agronomy, field and crop information, standing crop samples and grain samples we provided to ADAS showed, as expected, that water had been the limiting factor to our yield. With the crop only actually yielding 10t/ha, but having a high protein showing it had received adequate N.

The report gives you a breakdown of any elements that you may have been deficient in, including N, how well your crop used available sunlight and how well it used available water. Interestingly, our crop used 125% of the available water meaning that it accessed water by deepening its roots.

Last year our Motown crop yielded 12.5t/ha, however due to the much wetter summer, this was felt to be only 70% of its yield potential, as it was restricted by nitrogen availability, which we felt was due to the drought in May and a poor rooting system.

In 2016, our Zulu crop achieved 62.5% of its yield potential, with a yield of 10.9t/ha. Again, due to a summer with greatly different weather patterns increasing the crops yield potential, but us failing to give the crop 100% of what it needed.

So, although our yield is back this year on last, it is reassuring to know that we are pushing the crops to reach their potential. It’s just a shame we can’t control the weather...