Wuffling in the sunshine

A summer's day spent cutting and wrapping silage can be idyllic

Our summer seems to be taking a bit of a holiday at the moment, with the mild and (occasionally) sunny weather having given way to rain, strong winds and biting cold. It feels like winter has returned already.

Throughout the year there are jobs that rely on the weather behaving itself, and summer is certainly no exception. One of the most important jobs of the season is making silage, which is used as feeding through the winter. Silage is basically just various grasses that are allowed to grow tall, then cut, dried a little, and wrapped in bales to ferment for a few months before being fed to the sheep.

With the warm weather earlier in the month a good proportion of the island’s silage has already been cut and baled; everyone else is now waiting for the sunshine to return.

The job requires at least two dry, and preferably sunny, days in a row to be done properly. The first day the silage is cut into lines and then left to dry out. The grass can also be turned to aid the drying process, either by hand or with a machine called a “wuffler”, which, er, wuffles it a bit.

The following day is the bigger job, which also requires more people. A tractor with a baling machine attached moves slowly around the field; the grass goes in at one end, then comes out the other end in tightly-packed cylinders about a metre long.

Another tractor follows it around with a trailer and a team of lifters on the back. They pile the bales up on the trailer and take them to yet another machine, where they are each spun around and wrapped in plastic, then stacked up ready for the winter. Each field may have upwards of 100 bales in it to be processed in this way.

Although there is a core of folk who are nearly always involved in the work (generally those people who own tractors), it also requires more people to come out and help. The more people there are the easier it becomes and the less time it takes.

This is one of those community jobs where folk help each other because they need help themselves; if you want people to turn up when your silage is being done then it’s only fair to go and work when other people are doing theirs.

On the whole, silage days tend to be fairly sociable events. The children are usually on their summer holidays so they always get involved, and because the job needs to be done in good weather, people are quite happy to be out in the sunshine doing something useful.

It can at times feel like an idyllic pursuit, though the aching back and muscles the following day normally dispel that illusion. Until the next time.

The silage baler is actually quite a recent addition to crofting equipment on the island. In the past many people had pits, into which the cut grass was packed. But that tended to be a fairly inefficient and difficult means of creating silage, with a lot of wastage, and so the baler has proved a very welcome development.

It was also normal until not so long ago for crofts to make hay as well as, or instead of, silage. But haymaking is a far more labour-intensive process, with days of repeated turning and stacking required to get the grass sufficiently dry.

The weather here is simply not reliable enough for good haymaking, and so an activity that had been part of life in Fair Isle for many hundreds of years is now almost completely gone.

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As summer marches briskly on, the time has come for a short holiday. A break from blogging is required, and so my next will be on 20 August.

Malachy Tallack is 26 and lives in Fair Isle. He is a singer-songwriter, journalist, and editor of the magazine Shetland Life.
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A global marketplace: the internet represents exporting’s biggest opportunity

The advent of the internet age has made the whole world a single marketplace. Selling goods online through digital means offers British businesses huge opportunities for international growth. The UK was one of the earliest adopters of online retail platforms, and UK online sales revenues are growing at around 20 per cent each year, not just driving wider economic growth, but promoting the British brand to an enthusiastic audience.

Global e-commerce turnover grew at a similar rate in 2014-15 to over $2.2trln. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is embracing e-marketplaces with 28 per cent growth in 2015 to over $1trln of sales. This demonstrates the massive opportunities for UK exporters to sell their goods more easily to the world’s largest consumer markets. My department, the Department for International Trade, is committed to being a leader in promoting these opportunities. We are supporting UK businesses in identifying these markets, and are providing access to services and support to exploit this dramatic growth in digital commerce.

With the UK leading innovation, it is one of the responsibilities of government to demonstrate just what can be done. My department is investing more in digital services to reach and support many more businesses, and last November we launched our new digital trade hub: www.great.gov.uk. Working with partners such as Lloyds Banking Group, the new site will make it easier for UK businesses to access overseas business opportunities and to take those first steps to exporting.

The ‘Selling Online Overseas Tool’ within the hub was launched in collaboration with 37 e-marketplaces including Amazon and Rakuten, who collectively represent over 2bn online consumers across the globe. The first government service of its kind, the tool allows UK exporters to apply to some of the world’s leading overseas e-marketplaces in order to sell their products to customers they otherwise would not have reached. Companies can also access thousands of pounds’ worth of discounts, including waived commission and special marketing packages, created exclusively for Department for International Trade clients and the e-exporting programme team plans to deliver additional online promotions with some of the world’s leading e-marketplaces across priority markets.

We are also working with over 50 private sector partners to promote our Exporting is GREAT campaign, and to support the development and launch of our digital trade platform. The government’s Exporting is GREAT campaign is targeting potential partners across the world as our export trade hub launches in key international markets to open direct export opportunities for UK businesses. Overseas buyers will now be able to access our new ‘Find a Supplier’ service on the website which will match them with exporters across the UK who have created profiles and will be able to meet their needs.

With Lloyds in particular we are pleased that our partnership last year helped over 6,000 UK businesses to start trading overseas, and are proud of our association with the International Trade Portal. Digital marketplaces have revolutionised retail in the UK, and are now connecting consumers across the world. UK businesses need to seize this opportunity to offer their products to potentially billions of buyers and we, along with partners like Lloyds, will do all we can to help them do just that.

Taken from the New Statesman roundtable supplement Going Digital, Going Global: How digital skills can help any business trade internationally

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