Jo Mackenzie writes about life on the Black Isle, on one of the few remaining dairy farms operating in the north of Scotland
The perennially shifting route map out of lockdown seems to be changing daily, but the rituals of day-to-day farming go on almost as if in a pre-coronavirus bubble.
Annual IACS forms have been completed, grass fields reseeded and first cut silage harvested, packed and covered – the quality particularly high this year thanks to the glorious spell of sunshine in May. Nick is also seeing the benefits of redeploying the farm team resource back in April.
Hard-working employee Ian is now running the young dairy stock and 500-head sheep holding south of Inverness belonging to Nick’s father, Dereck, reducing the Rootfield monthly wage bill.
Meanwhile here, Nick has increased emerging talent Scott’s responsibilities. This has predominantly included vital on-farm tractor work – jobs previously contracted out such as ploughing and cultivation – and Scott making use of a smart system that calculates exactly where, when and how much fertiliser to spread in each field.
Beyond the farm boundaries, roads have become noticeably busier since entering Phase 1 out of lockdown, yet we have seen the volume of traffic to the farm honesty shed drop slightly.
And our friends and local partner suppliers have experienced the same trend, possibly as people return to their previous supermarket shopping habits.
However, it is the incredible resilience and resourcefulness of businesses around us, from delis and restaurants to one of our favourite independent gift shops – the Old School Beauly – that have inspired us to forge ahead with plans to extend and improve our own retail arm of the business.
Local farms, food producers and retailers have offered a lifeline to folk, especially those in rural communities, who have been shielding or felt unsafe shopping in supermarkets during lockdown.
We want to keep making ourselves appealing and relevant to customers – new and regular – and like the soft fruit farm, veg grower, high street butcher, fish van and artisan baker, offer local alternatives to produce flown thousands of miles across the world, available year-round, with long shelf lives, grown with chemicals or produced to lower welfare standards than are adhered to across the British Isles.
To this end, Nick and I both recently signed the NFU petition to lobby the government to set up a trade, food and farming standards commission and “put laws in place that prevents imports of food that is produced in ways that are illegal in the UK”. See nfuonline.com for more information and to sign the petition.
Publicly championed by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the petition aims to protect British family farms and it now has more than one million signatures.
Now more than ever, shopping local is pertinent – for taste, nutritional value and to address food miles and environmental damage; for farming integrity, safeguarding animal welfare and consumer confidence, and for economic reasons.
Jo lives with husband Nick, a dairy farmer and their daughters Daisy and Mollie, at Rootfield Farm