It is that that time of year again, so time for another round up of what we have been up to this year. We did a round up last year and so it seems worthwhile to do a sort of ‘compare and contrast’ to track our progress.
Ok, let’s get started….
1. Farm Construction
The first round up item is farm construction. Last year we had 4 BST systems completed, and this year with still have only 4 BST systems completed. This has been the source of much frustration for us as we had hoped to have another 4 in place by now. So why have we not managed to progress the build out as expected? Various issues have contributed to this situation but two in particular stand out.
Ongoing Technical Issues –
The BST equipment has been a great success for us but we continue to experience issues using it. Ultimately, the gear was designed for Australian conditions and not Scottish conditions, so it was probably inevitable that we would hit problems, but it is disappointing that these continue to occur after several years of using the equipment. This year we have had major issues with lines breaking and have spent a significant amount of time fixing lines and testing potential solutions to the underlying problem. We are hopeful that all these issue are now behind us and that we know how to work this equipment successfully in our specific conditions.
Stock Management –
Last year we wrote:
‘This year has been challenging because we are now in a situation where we also have to manage the stock on site, and as such there are competing interests that both have to be accommodated.’
This became an even bigger issue this year. We now have three year classes on site now, six different batches between the Natives and the Pacifics (Rock oysters – Crassostrea gigas), and these all need to be managed. This meant that the amount of time available to devote to farm construction was diminished quite significantly. The solution to this issue was to bring forward a change that we had been planning for a while. We decided that I, as the main farm operator, needed to have more time available to devote to the farm, so as of August I have now gone part time at my previous fulltime job. A big commitment to make but in the last three months this has been a huge difference already.
The outcome for this one has to be a ‘could do better’, however we have made significant improvements in our understanding of the equipment and have made more time available. So moving forward, we are well placed, and our goal for next year is to build out another 3 BST systems at minimum.
2. Farm Operations
Next round up item is farm operations. As mentioned above we have three year classes on site now. We wrote the following last year and it is still true, and shall always be true:
‘Although oysters are only small they grow exponentially, what was one basket can rapidly expand into six, and this growth cycle needs to be managed if good quality product is to be harvested. This means lots of handling, handling of high volumes of shells which are increasing in weight all the time, ergo lots of hard work.’
The pacific oysters (Rock oysters – Crassostrea gigas) have done really well. They are tough, hardy and grow very aggressively, on our site we experience very little mortality with them. I hesitate to say that they are easy to grow, but they are definitely easier to grow than Natives. We have learned that the key issue is management of stocking density, as this is the key factor in determining shell shape. Well in acting as a brake on it, as we already in the favourable position where the tumbling BST baskets encourage the teardrop profile by default; this is contrast to the flute / rabbit ear shape commonly seen with trestle produced items.
The Native oysters (European Flat oysters – Ostrea edulis) have been a mixed bag. The seed we introduced last year had significant mortality which was really disappointing. On reflection, mistakes were made with this batch. The delivery was delayed and they arrived a day late (in retrospect we should have rejected this batch), the weather was particularly warm at the time, and due to an issue with baskets we had to stock at a density higher than we would have liked. Likely outcome is that the seed that was not dead was highly stressed, hence the mortality. Support for this comes from the fact that most of the dead shells were at the seed size when it arrived. The other ages groups have grown well and are tracking the growth data from the trial which is good. As always, mortality with the Natives is higher but again the key to minimising this is stocking density. It is also the case that they need more attention that the Pacifics to ensure the impact of blue mussels growing in the baskets is kept to a minimum. As such, the outcome for has to be ‘fair to middling’.
As such, the outcome for has to be ‘fair to middling’. As for new stock next year, the plan is to introduce further batches of both type of oysters but to concentrate on natives as we did this year.
3. Distribution Centre
This year we started working on the building of a small distribution centre. The goal was to have a space from where we would dispatch all of our product, and also be able to hold it in tanks, which can also be used to purify the shellfish if necessary. We successfully completed this task and you can read about that in this post.
Setting up the distribution centre was a long journey and we are delighted to have reached this point. We are now able to process and sell product to both wholesale and retail customers; this was a watershed moment for the business and marked a big step forward for us.
The outcome for this one is ‘job done’. Moving forward we would like to expand the number of tanks we have but that shall depend upon how business develops across the year.
4. The Trial
This round up item has morphed because as mentioned last year, as for ‘The Trial’ that is now complete.
That is not to say we have not been experimenting and carrying out new trials, because we have. This year we have been looking at the recent popularity of floating based oyster structures to see if this could be useful to us. Various options exist from homemade mini rafts, commonly referred to as Taylor Floats to full scale commercial equipment such as the OystrerGro.
We already have a significant investment in equipment, so our focus has been on re-utilising what we have got, well at least for any trial installations. As such, we have a small trial running and the results have been promising.
No outcome for this one yet as it is ‘ongoing’. Next year we are going to reassess our mini trial and if the data looks good we shall scale the trial up slightly as there are a number of open questions. We shall probably start posting about this experiment in more detail in the coming year.
5. Oysters For Sale
A new round item and one that shall become very important! This year our first crop of commercial oysters are available to sell. These are pacific oysters (Rock oysters – Crassostrea gigas) and they are available in a range of sizes from Bistro (50 – 75g), Standard (75 – 120g). We also have a few thousand very large (180g +) pacifics available from the trial oysters we initially experimented with.
But are also open to selling more! We welcome enquires from both wholesale and retail customers so please get in touch.
Again no outcome for this one yet but a ‘good start’. Next year the goal is to ramp up sales and push the business into positive cash-flow territory.
6. Native Oyster Restoration
The final round item is Native oyster restoration. Over the last year we have become significantly involved in Native oyster (European Flat oyster – Ostrea edulis) restoration activities. Our primary involvement has been becoming a supply chain partner of the Glenmorangie DEEP project which aims to restore a Native oyster bed in the Dornoch Firth.
As a result of that we have attended the NORA conference in Edinburgh () and even spent some time with an arts project in Skye. Interesting times and it is really enjoyable to be involved in this type of work.
This year we shall continue to develop this aspect of our business, working closely with the DEEP project and other restoration projects that are starting to develop.
So to round up, some good, some not so good but all in all a positive year and the business continues to grow. We have continued to learn valuable lessons and have positioned ourselves to be more productive and efficient moving forward. Next year development continues.
We shall leave it there for this year, and so,
Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath Ùr