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Cuairt suas (A round up) – 2020!

Looks like we are late with this round up so let’s get on with it. We did a round up last year and the year before and so in keeping with tradition here is a sort of ‘compare and contrast’ to track our progress.

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 5 BST systems completed. Much better than last year but still short of the target of 3 new systems. 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 again had major issues with lines breaking and have spent a significant amount of time retro fitting our identified updates to the original lines. The new lines have are have been build with the updates included, and to date the updates have worked well, so hopefully this issue shall diminish from this point forward.

Stock Management –

Previously 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 has continued to be an issue this year. 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 went part time at my previous fulltime job. A big commitment to make but it has made a huge difference. 

However, the ‘Black Swan’ that is Covid-19 appeared and has completely disturbed our business. This was supposed to be the first year of starting to sell heavily but that has been totally curtailed and disrupted by the virus. We have still managed to sell stock but nowhere near as much as could have been expected. For stock management is that the farm is ‘clogged’ with stock and this activity has sucked up even more time.

The outcome for this one has to be a ‘fair to middling’. 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 2 BST systems at minimum.

Winter Rain at Sunset

2. Farm Operations

Next round up item is farm operations. We have four 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 Rock oysters (Crassostrea gigas)  have done really well, as they always seem to do on our site. 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. The additional learning this year is that this applies at all stages of the growth cycle, and it is worthwhile reducing basket counts to ensure a high quality product.

We are already in the favourable position where the tumbling BST baskets encourage the teardrop profile by default, but this still needs to be managed closely. We are starting to give consideration to shortening the grading cycle to ‘work’ the rock oysters more.

The Native oysters (Ostrea edulis) have done well. In light of what we learned last year, we significantly reduced the stocking density for the natives we brought on site. This, in combination with a good spell of weather in the mid to late summer resulted in a good growth spurt and mortality was significantly less than in previous years. As per last year, the other ages groups have grown well and are tracking the growth data from the trial which is good. In fact by the end of the year we were able to sell small Natives for the Christmas market which was a major milestone for us.

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

As mentioned last year, we successfully built our small distribution centre, and you can read about that in this post. The centre has been running successfully for most of the year and we have also installed a second tank which gives us more capacity and flexibility.

The outcome for this one is ‘job done and ongoing’. Moving forward we need to build upon our packaging setup for direct retail orders.

4. The Trial

We have continued to experiment with floating equipment, and early in the year we installed a small home-made floating longline. The growth from this was a mixed bag, it appeared to be very slow to get going but eventually seemed to track the intertidal. The conclusion was that the floating equipment was ‘at least’ as good but not better than the intertidal. This was disappointing but not a disaster.

We also had issues with increased mortality and this may be to do with site exposure. We also had major issues with overgrowth which was amazing to see but a complete nightmare to deal with.

And so a mixed bag. It was our view that it was still worth persevering with the concept but that the home-made equipment is just not suitable. As a result, we have started to experiment with the New Zealand Flipfarm concept as this could potentially solve the issue we have observed.

No outcome for this one yet as it is ‘ongoing’. Next year we are going to continue testing the Flipfarm and see where we go from there. We shall probably start posting about this experiment in more detail in the coming year. 

5. Oysters For Sale

This was a new round up item last year and one that is very important! As you might expect, Covid-19 has played havoc with our sales this year. When possible we have continued selling to local establishments such as The Riverhouse, The Rocpool and Skibo Castle. We have also started selling wholesale to a local seafood company Keltic Seafare.

Big news came at the end of the year when we launched the Native Oyster and Shellfish Company Ltd website. This has allowed us to sell directly over the internet and you can read all about that here.

As always, we open to selling more! We welcome enquires from both wholesale and retail customers so please get in touch.

As such, the outcome for has to be ‘fair to middling’. 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. As per last year we continue to be significantly involved in Native 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. Unfortunately Covid-19 has put the brakes on this project but hopefully it shall get back on track shortly.

As such, the outcome for has to be ‘no change’. 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.

7. Summary

So to round up much like last year, 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 belatedly,

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr a h-uile duine

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