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Talking arable with Neil MacLeod: Our biggest concern will be the supply of staff for our fruit enterprise in the coming months

The thing about being a columnist for a national publication such as Arable Farming is you cannot hide from what you have written in previous months.

South Esk Farm's Neil MacLeod.
South Esk Farm's Neil MacLeod.

Think back to February’s issue when my face was on the front cover with the caption ‘to have no light leaf spot present is a first for me’. Well, fast forward two months and it could say ‘light leaf spot – normal service resumed’.

 

Our latest Bayer SpotCheck results show 73% of new leaves affected in the Incentive, and 47% in both the SY Harnas and Acacia.

 

Funnily enough, the phoma which was in the crop two months ago is not being picked up on the new leaves, which I can only put down to the colder temperatures we’ve had since January.

 

Having had a week of arctic north-easterly winds, the oilseed rape crop is looking a touch blue in places. However, having had an application of liquid ammonium sulphate, I wait eagerly for signs of further growth at which point an application of prothioconazole and tebuconazole will aim to protect new growth from further infection.


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Spring

 

Elsewhere, we are gearing up for spring work, however, I haven’t yet even pulled the drill out of the shed. Our February rainfall of 100mm was significantly above our 42mm average and in places it is taking a while to dry up.

 

With 280 hectares of spring barley and oats to establish we do need to make a start. However, because of the increased amount of spring cropping nationally this year, I believe we need to ensure we do it right and, with soil temperatures still sitting at only 4degC, we just have to be patient.

Issues

 

It’s difficult to sit and write an arable article without commenting on other issues which are affecting our industry.

 

No, don’t worry, I am not going to bore you with stories about lambing or my opinions on Brexit, a topic which, I can’t believe I’m about to say this, has sadly fallen by the wayside.

 

No, I’m afraid Covid-19 is at the forefront of all we do now in terms of protecting ourselves and our families from this terrible virus.

 

It’s yet to hit Scotland in big numbers but by the time this article is published I have no reason to believe it won’t have. At Southesk we are doing everything we possibly can to protect ourselves and, as a rural business, we can only hope we won’t feel its full effects.

 

The men are no longer meeting in the morning, sharing tractors is banned, we have sanitiser and detergent-based wet wipes in all machines and we are basically trying to carry out our day-to-day tasks in complete isolation from one another.

 

The office is out of bounds to non-essential staff and visitors and we are working remotely through shift work and the use of mobile phones as much as we can. We have ordered all our wearing metal and consumables for the season and enough spray chemical to cover us for three months.

Recruitment

 

Our biggest concern in terms of the business will be the supply of staff for our fruit enterprise in the coming months. We are running at about 25% of our total requirement, which will be sufficient for the next six weeks, but once the strawberry season gets into full flow we will struggle, as the remainder of our staff requirement come from Bulgaria and Romania.

 

Of course, we will advertise locally, but that may carry just as much risk of introducing Covid-19 to Southesk and I have my doubts if any locals will want to come and pick fruit anyway. In truth, we have absolutely no idea how the next few months will pan out but, as best you can, stay safe and listen to the advice as we are all in this together.

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