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Talking arable with Neil MacLeod: Sugar beet for bioethanol could be a welcome challenge

I should have known that our relatively kind January weather could never have lasted, especially when last month I submitted a picture of one of our tractors ploughing in glorious blue-sky conditions.

Southesk Farms' Neil MacLeod
Southesk Farms' Neil MacLeod

Fast forward to last week and that same tractor was being dragged out of a wet hole as yet another ageing drainage system provided a reminder that when they were laid a long time ago they were not really designed for the amount of rainfall we have experienced over the last eight months.

 

Storms Ciara and Dennis have been ‘sympathetic’ to farmers in the North East with only 50mm of rain over the last week. Again, it shows the shift in what we deem as acceptable when I say ‘only 50mm’, however, we have fared better than others across the country.


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Store

 

With ploughing at a halt, we have been trying to finish our new chemical store and sprayer filling area, in particular, the interior fixtures and fittings.

 

When you have an empty shed to fill with a list of the things you want, need and are legally obliged to have, it’s amazing how quickly the space fills, how often you change your mind and how often well-intentioned opinions and ideas need to be managed.

 

One permanent fixture that’s now installed is the wall mounted fan which, linked to the adjacent workshop will provide thermostatically controlled warm air from our recently commissioned ground source heat pump ensuring that the chemical store stays warm, dry and without the need for insulation.

 

Planning hurdles which hampered progress with a similar installation for our fruit enterprise are now overcome and we hope to have our polytunnel heating commissioned for late spring.

Winter

 

 

One job that’s always handy to fall back on through the winter months is loading grain lorries. This, however, has not been helped by the temporary closure of one our local distillers, resulting in a carry-over of around 2,000 tonnes of our wheat.

 

From a cash point of view, I am very relaxed as we have been paid anyway, however, we are now faced with loading said tonnages in the months to come when more pressing tasks should be taking priority.

 

Another winter task I’m concerned we are not involved in is the annual battle of wits with our feathered oilseed rape connoisseurs.

 

I say this nervously based on the aforementioned ploughing scenario, because I am yet to see any pigeons at Southesk, which is just as well as one bite would take most of the plant.

 

Staying with our theme of avian predators, we are experiencing significant interest from the geese which spend the winter on the nearby Montrose Basin, so much so that I have sacrificed 10 hectares of late sown wheat in order to protect 70ha of early sown wheat after peas.

 

So far it’s working, however, as the winter progresses and the geese get hungrier and lazier, they may soon realise that the good wheat is closer to shore than the poor wheat.

Opportunity

 

A recent article in a local publication has announced a feasibility study to be undertaken into the development of a sugar beet refinery for the production of bioethanol on the east coast of Scotland.

 

Requiring up to 20,000ha of land within a 60 miles radius of a potential site I hope that Southesk would fall within its catchment to give us another break crop option.

 

I would also welcome the challenge of growing a crop that is new to me, however, remain cautious about wholeheartedly accepting another crop that can cause significant damage to soil structure unless as a substitute to turnips or potatoes.

 

That being said, I think the feasibility study is exciting and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.

 

Spring cropping has once again been pushed further from my thoughts. We desperately need the wind to swing round to the east to start drying things up. I start lambing next week so no doubt it will happen.

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