[Week ending 14 September 2007]
As cereal harvesting nears completion, Andrew Blake wraps up reports on our regional representatives’ progress
Had it not been for catchy weather James Wray might have finished combining at Dungiven earlier this week. But with his own and a neighbour’s machine he hoped to be done by the end of it.
“But I don’t think Northern Ireland was as affected as much by drought as elsewhere,” said Mr Wray.
On the plus side 57ha (140 acres) of early sown Westminster spring barley, which clearly thrived in the unusual season, was doing well at 7.4t/ha (3t/acre).
“We reckon 2.7t/acre is a good crop and our average is about 2.5.”
“Although overall we’re slightly down on yield, with prices as they are I can’t say I’m disappointed.
“Straw yields are very good, with winter wheat doing over 10 round bales per acre, and there’s a good market for it at £10-12 a bale for wheat and £12-14 for barley.
“We’ve also just sold a lorry load of wheat for £180/t.”
Initial grain moistures were 21%, but the last wheat came in at 17%, and because of the ‘on/off’ harvest his 12t Opico batch drier had easily kept pace.
The extra 2000t of storage that came with the recently acquired reclaimed land also eased operations.
“For the first time it means we can finish the harvest before looking to sell grain to make room for potato storage. In previous years we’ve had to clear all the grain off the farm by mid-October.”
In Berks, Nigel Horne’s Wizard winter beans had disappointed at only 4.25t/ha (1.7t/acre), which he blamed on the dull summer. But in Scotland, where John Hutcheson hoped to tackle 84ha (210 acres) of Firth spring oats this week, wheat yields had remained good to the end.
However, both men were waiting for Fuego spring beans to ripen.
“It could be a fortnight before we even get to Roundup them,” said Mr Hutcheson.
[Week ending 7 September 2007]
As harvest draws to a close in the south, Andrew Blake finds a bright spot amongst our regional representatives
Late but definitely worth waiting for, was John Hutcheson’s verdict on this year’s 425ha (1050 acre) wheat harvest at Leckerstone Farm,
After last season’s fast-ripening harvest, which delivered some of his best yields, he had feared this summer’s duller, damper conditions might have taken their toll.
“But if anything the yields are ahead of last year’s, and our average will certainly be over 10t/ha and possibly 10.5.
“We’ve had a great run of weather in the past two weeks which has helped.”
Even then undesiccated Alchemy’s straw was still a bit green and grain moisture 17-19%. “We’re slightly behind on last year so I really wanted to press on.”
Specific weights had held well. “The first were up to 80kg/hl and they should all be comfortably above the minimum 72 for feed.”
So with much improved grain prices – he recently closed out a GrainCo option for a quarter of the crop at £140/t – extra drying costs were bearable.
“I’m not too worried about the cost of the fuel, and the £5/t option I took out a year ago at £90/t has been great value.”
So why the good results?
“I think they highlight the value of a good, robust fungicide programme – especially on Robigus. We used four sprays, and our local Scottish Agronomy trials show the difference between treated and untreated crops this year has been huge.
“Crops also established really well. They got off to a good start which offset a lot of the later potential negatives.
“But it could be a challenge to get them away so well this year because our soils are still quite wet. We’ve only sown 60 acres of wheat so far.”
Having finished combining wheat on Monday, leaving just 11ha (28 acres) of spring barley, Troy Stuart had seen no improvement to offset earlier disappointing results.
“Grain and straw yields are all well down around here. It looks as though we saved the best, some Einstein, to last. It did about 3.5t/acre.”
The only upside was that low specific weights meant less drying than usual.
Nigel Horne’s 70ha (173 acres) of Tipple spring barley, mainly for seed, gave a “pleasing” 7-7.5t/ha (2.8-3t/acre). “It’s a nice bold sample.” But although it was all done before 5mm of weekend rain, most required drying and double handling.
For John Barrett, who finished harvest on 31 Aug, some later cut sprouted wheat would suffer quality and moisture deductions. But overall he was satisfied with the outcome.
“We were bang on target for yield and the grain price is good news for the budget. Nothing’s been over 17% moisture.”
Inability to finish combining showed something was seriously wrong with parts of the farm’s drainage system, said Richard Solari who still hoped to cut his remaining oilseed rape rather than plough it in.
On the plus side he had sold wheat for next May at £175/t. “Anything over £100/t would have looked good only a little while ago.”
Ben Atkinson finished combining last Sunday with wheat yields down but “more than compensated for by the higher prices.”
With about 35% of his crop left to market, he estimated his average return at £130/t.
“We started in the mid £80s and sold little bits all the way up. The point is that every decision was right at the time.”
For Andrew Gloag, expecting to finish wheat this week, it was an easy yet disappointing harvest.
“We’ve had a good run, with the weather windows just when we needed them. But we’re certainly 0.5t/acre down on what we expected and it hasn’t got any better towards the end.
Considering that his latest cut wheat, off reclaimed land, was not drilled until after Christmas, James Wray was well satisfied.
The two-thirds of his 34ha (85 acres) of Alchemy combined so far had given 9.1t/ha (3.7t/acre), he estimated. “That’s not bad for a Jan-sown crop.
“But we haven’t touched the 100 acres of Belvoir yet.”
[Week ending 31 August, 2007]
With the odd exception this year’s harvest was turning out to be distinctly underwhelming as Andrew Blake caught up with our regional representatives’ progress
After combining useful looking yields of wheat on contract in South Yorks, Andrew Gloag estimated output from his heavy soils further north at Stokesley was well down on his 10t/ha (4t/acre) norm.
“Never in my 20 years of farming have I had such disappointing yields, especially after they had looked so well. I’d always thought that if we got our crops drilled on time and looked after them, 4t/acre was a given on our land.”
Roughly two-thirds of the way through his total area, first crop Alchemy and Claire were giving only 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) after drying. Specific weights were poor, he added. “They’re right in the low 70s.”
But the key feature was the lack of grains per spikelet, he believed. “We’re getting only three, whereas we’d hope for four or even five.
“The grain sites were there, but after 13in of rain in six weeks they just failed to fill and shrivelled.”
Second wheat Einstein had given only 8.1t/ha (3.3t/acre).
“On the basis of our rolling average of 3.8t/acre I thought I had sold 50% forward at just over £100/t. Now it looks as though it will be quite a bit more than that, and I certainly won’t be selling any more until we’ve finished.
“At least we should get quite a bit more for what’s left, and we’ll probably end up around £110/t average. So we’ll still be on budget.”
On the plus side cultivations were going well with nearly half his 400ha (1000 acres) of oilseed rape area ready to sow this weekend.
“But it’s definitely not the bumper year it could have been.”
For Troy Stuart, two-thirds of the way through his winter wheat, combining this year was also a big let down.
“It’s my worst wheat harvest in 15 years. I think it’s simply that the earlier weather capped our yields and quality.”
Output across all four varieties, Solstice, Alchemy, Einstein and Istabraq, was 15-20% down on expectations, he estimated. “The grain quality and bushel weight’s just not there. We’ve a lot not making 72kg/hl.”
His only husbandry mistake, with hindsight, was omitting a second pgr. “But I don’t think that would have made any difference to yields – it just made combining a bit slower.”
Having finished his 148ha (366 acres) of Gladiator at the weekend Nigel Horne’s wheats had been more encouraging.
“I reckon it’s done 9.25t/ha – so average at worst, and maybe a bit better. But I don’t know the quality yet – it’s not particularly attractive.”
A first stab at Tipple spring barley, for malting, had been promising, and winter beans were not far off ripe. But oilseed rape sowing was taking priority earlier this week.
John Barrett, who expected to finish his wheats about now, described results as “very average and nothing special.”
“I’m not sure what they’ll be from now on though because some of it’s sprouted.”
Still unable to reach 4ha (10 acres) of wheat and patches of barley and oilseed rape after earlier deluges left the land sodden, Richard Solari expected to abandon the latter – both for this year and the future.
“I won’t be growing rape again, though the alternative’s still undecided.”
Continuing with it could restrict opportunities, he explained. “We may want to grow vegetables in future.”
Ben Atkinson, who also hoped to finish his wheat about now, blamed a dry spell just before flag leaf emergence for output of his 1295ha (3200 acres) of Humber, Richmond and Welford being 10-15% down on normal.
“The loss of grain sites early on robbed us of yield.”
“We are late, so perhaps it’s been worth waiting for. But we haven’t touched the undesiccated Alchemy yet, which might be more difficult to thrash.”
James Wray’s first 45ha (110 acres) of Alchemy and Einstein were “a bit down on expectations” at 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre) and he was not especially hopeful for the remainder, all off land reclaimed from the sea.
But his spring barley looked so promising it was making him wonder whether to drop the winter crop, especially given payment for over-wintered stubbles.
[Week ending 24 August 2007]
A vital cropping decision was on hold as Andrew Blake caught up with our regional representatives’ harvest news
Should winter oilseed rape figure in next year’s cropping?
That was the key question for Richard Solari earlier this week as his combinable crop harvest neared its rain-interrupted end.
With about 5% of this year’s first-time crop still to finish because of wet ground, plus a similar proportion of his winter barley and 12ha (30 acres) of wheat after sugar beet to clear, he remained unsure whether its 3.7t/ha (30 cwt/acre) yield was good enough to offset its potential downsides.
“I know I need to make up my mind by the end of the week, but after talking to a lot of people I’m still not convinced that it’s right for our land.”
The only reason it was introduced was as a break replacing sugar beet, and its impact on the business’s prime crop, potatoes, was worrying.
“Its workloads have clashed terribly with the potatoes and agronomically I’m concerned about the sclerotinia threat it could bring to them. The question is what else do we grow?”
Oats and/or spring barley were potential replacements.
“I admit I’m leaning towards not growing rape again, but we have to ask what the impact will then be on our cropping the following year?”
After previous deluges, a good dry spell eased earlier combining fears and most of his cereals had been gathered in good conditions.
“We had a lovely 10 days of dry weather to get most of the wheat, and as a result I should think we’ve had to dry less than 10%. It’s yielded pretty well too.”
His main disappointment was winter barley, some of which was 1.2t/ha (0.5t/acre) down on his expected 7.4t/ha (3t/acre). “It looked awful at the end of April, and with hindsight I wish we had applied some nitrogen to it in February.
“The lasting memory from this year is of the wet ground and having to tow the combine out.”
A further 38mm (1.5in) of rain on Monday had thwarted Troy Stuart.
With just half his total combinable area and only a third of his wheat done he was growing concerned about establishing following crops.
“The ground’s completely saturated again. We were due to start oilseed rape drilling over the Bank Holiday, but that looks extremely unlikely.”
Nigel Horne was thankful to have all his Malacca milling wheat safely harvested, albeit at 19.5-20% moisture, before weekend rain.
“I don’t know its quality yet, but everything we cut earlier is well over spec for protein and Hagberg.”
Given the forecast John Barrett did not expect to tackle his final 121ha (300 acres) of wheat until the weekend.
“We might as well wait. It will be fully ripe by then, so it should take only four days.”
Two days combining at 19% moisture saw 40ha (100 acres) of Wizard winter beans safely in. “They yielded well at 1.8t/acre.”
With no bruchid beetle or staining the third not sold forward was expected to make a welcome £165/t.
Conditions were hampering fieldwork for Ben Atkinson who had 40% of his wheat uncut at the start of the week. But he had three oilseed rape fields sown.
“We’re not behind yet, and I’m trying not to get too depressed. But the weather’s not helping.”
Some of his most recent wheat was 21% moisture. “So the drier’s been pretty busy.
“We still plan to bale all the straw ahead of the rape.”
Andrew Gloag had his fingers crossed for a re-start on his 750ha (1850 acres) of N Yorks wheat, having cut only part of one field.
“We really do need a window now. The half inch of rain we had over the weekend wetted things more than expected. We even had to stop cultivating.”
John Hutcheson wanted to begin wheat this week – having started last year on 9 Aug. But dull wet weather continued to dash his hopes.
“It’s just not ripening fast enough.”
Rain stopped weekend rape drilling. “We had a fair bit of ground cultivated ahead of the seeder, but it’s now saturated.
“My main concern is the amount of work ahead of us.”
“We should then be able to go straight into our January-sown Belvoir wheat. It’s gone off very fast.”
[Week ending 17 Aug 2007]
After rain halted harvest across much of the country this week, Andrew Blake reports on our regional representatives’ progress
Weather permitting, Ben Atkinson had hoped to have two-thirds of his 1295ha (3200 acres) of wheat around Rippingale, Lincs in store by the end of this week. But rain on Tuesday and a poor forecast made that unlikely.
Yields, after good results with oilseed rape, were relatively disappointing and green straw was slowing progress and risked delaying baling.
“But I reckon we’re about half a ton an acre down with the wheat,” said Mr Atkinson. “Year on year we can normally do 4t/acre, but this time it’s likely to average only 3.5-3.6.
The spring drought was largely to blame, with differences driven more by soil type than variety, he believed. “The heavier land crops have done slightly better.”
Another plus was his recent sale of 1000t of wheat for May 2008 delivery at £150/t. “We started selling at £85 which seemed right at the time. Thankfully we did no more than 20% at under £100.”
But with oilseed rape drilling planned to start this week and cultivations under pressure because of rotational changes, a repeat breakdown on his main Challenger 865 tractor was frustrating. “It’s not a known problem.”
Disappointing was Troy Stuart’s verdict having combined about a third of his wheats.
“We’re a good 0.5-0.75t/acre down on what we expect, and I put it down to dull weather. We just didn’t get enough sun to finish it off.”
Even Nov-drilled Einstein after grain maize had done as well, delivering its budgeted 7.4t/ha (3t/acre).
Were it not for a combine breakdown last Friday and delay in getting a spare part, Nigel Horne might have had all his 100ha (250 acres) of Malacca milling wheat in before rain on Monday night.
“We had two false starts as the straw was still green, but we’ve done about 75ha. At 13.5-16% it didn’t need much drying and I don’t know the quality yet. But it’s not the boldest of samples. And as expected the yield’s about 0.5t/ha down on our average of over 9.”
John Barrett’s combine, working until 3am on Tuesday before the weather broke, had made good progress.
“We’ve about 250 acres left out of 1350, plus 100 acres of beans which are about 10 days off.”
Yields, even from second crop Consort from untreated seed “straight from the shed”, were near the budgeted 8.6t/ha (3.5t/acre). “We’re not on 4t/acre land.”
Little drying had been required. “I reckon 80% of it has been below 16% moisture.”
With only 12ha (30 acres) of Dec-sown wheat left plus some wet patches in oilseed rape and barley, Richard Solari surprisingly welcomed the rain – despite having his land deluged earlier this summer.
“Bizarrely we need it for lifting potatoes and to avoid greening from cracked ridges. It’s gone from mud to dust in 14 days and we’d have started irrigating if it hadn’t rained.”
Wheat yield and quality had held surprisingly well with Robigus giving up to 10t/ha (4t/acre).
Although none of his N Yorks wheats were ripe Andrew Gloag had been cutting 218ha (540 acres) – all Einstein – on a new stubble-to-stubble contract further south.
“It’s a geographical advantage – they’re about a week earlier.
“We did about 400 acres before being rained off and the yield looks encouraging – about 4t/acre. There’s some very heavy land but also about 180 acres of lighter where the crop had root-lodged.”
The earliest John Hutcheson expected to be back combining – on some second crop Predator wheat – was mid next week.
“We had a bit of excitement on Monday when we managed to get a bit of Roundup on. But we’ve had some real rubbish weather. Crops just aren’t ripening.”
James Wray believed his area would miss the worst of this week’s forecast rain but wheat harvest was unlikely to begin until next week.
Catchy conditions meant he still had some desiccating to do, but his main concern was keeping up to schedule with blight spraying.
[Week ending 10 August 2007]
Drier weather has eased combining concerns for our regional representatives. Andrew Blake reports
With initial yields well up to expectations at Catmore Farm, West Ilsley, Berks, Nigel Horne’s only regret, having finished 30ha (74 acres) of winter barley before the weekend, was having sold much of it forward.
Final output from 90ha (222 acres) of Lioness winter oilseed rape, some of the thickest Caramba (metconazole) treated for its growth regulatory effect, looked well over his 3.5t/ha (28cwt/acre) average.
“It’s hard to say what effect the spray had, but our combine driver Steve Rowland said the treated area was significantly faster and easier to cut,” said Mr Horne (pictured).
All Sequel barley was combined at under 15% moisture delivering, as last year, 7.5-8t/ha (3-3.2t/acre). It was sold, to two customers “to avoid having all my eggs in one basket”, for £80/t in March and April.
“That looked reasonable at the time. And I only ever sell about 75% of what we expect, so the balance should make an extra £35/t to drag the average up.”
The straw, making at least £30/t, would help the bottom line, but was unlikely to keep the crop in the rotation.
“Although I was more worried about our Tipple spring barley for seed in the April drought, its gross margin looks better and it spreads our costs and workloads.”
Naturally ripening Gladiator wheat was tried over the weekend but was unfit.
That left him waiting to tackle the first desiccated 40ha (100 acres) of 100ha (250 acres) of Malacca, hopefully this week.
Troy Stuart was glad to finish his 65ha (161 acres) of Dalguise winter oats before weekend rain.
“They were laid and horrible and yielded just 2t/acre.”
The crop over-wintered badly, but made exceptional spring growth. “We never got enough pgr on. But the bushel weight, 43-44kg/hl, was better than I expected.”
He hoped to cut wheat this week, starting with a poor stand off light land before moving onto desiccated crops. “But it’s all barely fit.”
After his combine driver was taken to hospital John Barrett found himself at the wheel on Tuesday morning with about 20% of the 546ha (1350 acres) of winter wheat done.
“It’s going really well – we’ve cut nothing over 17% moisture. But the bushel weights do seem low.”
However, first time Tipple spring barley after late-lifted sugar beet was “really pleasing” at 6.9t/ha (2.8t/acre). “It’s all made malting spec with nitrogen 1.4-1.5”.
Drier weather had at last helped harvest, but wet patches continued to frustrate combine contractor Martin Evans, said Richard Solari.
“We still haven’t finished one whole field of oilseed rape or barley.”
That made yields hard to estimate.
On the plus side no drying was required for the latest cuts and there was encouragingly little seed shedding from his remaining undesiccated Castille rape.
“We did 34 acres of Robigus [wheat] on Sunday. It was a nice sample and it did 3.5t/acre.”
After moving into winter wheat over the weekend Ben Atkinson’s yields and specific weights were, as expected, down after the dry spring.
Richmond and Humber were delivering 1t/ha less than his average 10t/ha. Specific weights were 73-75kg/hl and moistures 13.6-15.5%.
“In hindsight I wish I hadn’t held back on the first N application. But crops came out of winter looking so lush that we wanted to get a pgr on before we dared encourage more growth. Little did we know that nature would curb growth.”
Delighted was Andrew Gloag’s reaction after harvesting his 445ha (1100 acres) of winter oilseed rape plus 25% as much again on contract. Yields, from the crop split 50:50 between Castille and Excalibur, were far less variable than last year.
“We set ourselves a fairly ambitious target of 1.7t/acre which we’ve surpassed, averaging 1.75-1.8.
“There’s nothing to choose between the two on yield, but Castille’s been much easier to cut with the combines working until 4am even with dew around.”
Winter wheat would not be ready until next week.
Introducing club root tolerant winter oilseed rape variety Mendel three seasons ago had clearly paid off for John Hutcheson.
Roughly half way through his 185ha (456 acres) of desiccated crops yields were 4-4.4t/ha (1.6-1.8t/acre).
Club root, an increasing problem, had hit previous output hard, he noted.
James Wray was still some way from further combining, plans to treat 22ha (55 acres) of Alchemy wheat with glyphosate having been delayed by weekend rain. With potato lifting looming he was starting to worry about a potential workload clash.
“The Einstein’s flag leaves are still quite green.”
Inability to trim hedges until after 31 Aug under N Ireland’s cross compliance rules (elsewhere in the UK the date is 1 Aug) added to his concern.
“We’re trying hard to get that rule changed.”
[Week ending 3 August 2007]
With harvest weather turning for the better, Andrew Blake reports on our regional representatives’ progress
For Troy Stuart, working from Hill Barton Business Park, Clyst St Mary in Devon, harvest has gone well despite showers.
“It’s going pretty much according to plan – if anything we’re slightly ahead.”
With just 10% of his 150ha (370 acres) of winter oilseed rape left to cut yields were good.
“I should think we’ll average 1.6-1.7 – dried. We have done over 2t/acre before, but we’re no longer on virgin oilseed rape land which I think must make a difference.”
Moistures were initially high in the undesiccated crops, hitting 18% after rain and reflecting the damp summer which encouraged weeds, he noted.
Next would be 65ha (161 acres) of SW Dalguise winter oats 30-40% lodged, as was plenty of his wheat.
“It looks as though we’ve done the easy bit!” he said.
All the rape was sold for Oct/Nov averaging £174/t. “I’m happy with that, though I know I might have got £180.”
Four wheat parcels were already sold, the “weather market” generating £130/t for one. “Each time we got to what I thought was the top it went on up!”
He was thankful not to have winter barley. “Most of it’s been cut down here, and there have been some disastrous yields after drought on the sandy soils. The rain came too late.”
Having been rained off twice since starting combining on Friday, only a few days later than normal, Nigel Horne hoped to wrap up 90ha (222 acres) of desiccated oilseed rape, all Lioness, by mid-week before tackling Sequel winter barley.
“It’s doing 3.5-4t/ha, which is good for us. Our average is about 3.5. It always looked good.”
Initial moisture of 13% had fallen to 9% by Monday.
After disappointment with first oilseed rape yields (Arable 22 July) John Barrett found his later sowings more encouraging. “Some later drilled crops that established well in the autumn are doing much better.”
He expected to finish mid-week, but wheat and spring barley would not be quite ready to follow.
For Richard Solari the impact of 90mm (3.5in) of rain since starting on winter barley on 17 July was hard. His first ever oilseed rape was fit but mostly unreachable.
A weekend cut of 28ha (70 acres) of Expert off relatively poor land delivered a satisfactory 3.7t/ha (1.5t/acre) at 7% moisture.
“But we’ve tried three fields since then and kept getting the combine stuck. It’s incredibly frustrating. It will be five or six days before we can get to it.”
After a hesitant start and having to tow out a stuck combine, Ben Atkinson said oilseed rape was delivering as hoped, with Kalif and hybrid Excalibur giving up to 4.6t/ha (37cwt/acre), despite weather damage.
“We threw everything at the crop, and I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t done well. I hope we’ll average over 30cwt/acre.”
Given the forecast he expected to finish 730ha (1800 acres) this weekend, everything going directly to ADM’s Kent store. “I don’t think there’ll be much of a gap before we’re into wheat.”
A good run at winter barley, starting as last year on 23 July, saw Andrew Gloag’s 162ha (400 acres) all dried and in store by Sunday and the first 81ha (200 acres) of oilseed rape cut.
“We’ve only done Castille rape so far, but I’m very pleased with it at 1.94t/acre at 10% moisture. We budget for 1.7.”
John Hutcheson started combining on 24 July, the same date as last harvest, and hoped to finish 140ha (346 acres) of six-row winter barleys, mainly Sequel plus Amarena, by mid-week before moving into oilseed rape.
“We’ve had a great spell with very low moistures and a yield of about 9.2t/ha.” That was 0.6t/ha (5cwt/acre) up on the farm’s average.
Glyphosate desiccant had been especially effective. The only downside was the Feb price dropping £4/t.
James Wray had cleared his 28ha (70 acres) of Pearl winter barley averaging an estimated 7.9t/ha (3.2t/acre) with all straw baled.
“The moisture was 18-20%, so it took a bit of drying. If I’d known the weather was going to be so good I’d have waited. But when I saw what you were getting [in England] I was happy enough to go.”
No wheat was desiccated so harvest was a good three weeks off.