Harvest was nearly over for Farmers Weekly’s two southern Barometer farms earlier this week. Andrew Blake reports

Peter Snell’s earlier concern over his tightening workload had largely evaporated by Monday thanks to a relatively rain-free fortnight.

Bar 61ha of linseed, still a week away from combining, plus 10ha of wheat which he expected to clear by Tuesday, his Dorset harvest was complete.

“I’m quite pleased with our progress.” Temporarily increasing his workforce to three, including himself, and hiring a John Deere 7530 tractor for 12 weeks had eased the pressure, he explained.

The last of his late desiccated oilseed rape off heavy clay yielded respectably, 22ha of Excalibur direct drilled in mid-September delivering 3.8t/ha. “That was very pleasing considering its patchy appearance all winter.”

Tipple barley from 58ha looked equally pleasing. “But we had a demo combine in, and counting trailers and using yield meters seem to have been forgotten in the frenzy.

barometer big 
Clouds produced too little rain for East Lenham Farm’s crops, Andy Barr believes.
“From the heap on the drying floor I estimate 2.75-3t/acre.” Tests showed specific weights of 67-69kg/hl, nitrogens of 1.43-1.5%, and germinations of 97-98%. “I had been a bit worried about the germination level.”

His regret was having sold only about 60% of the crop forward – at up to £180/t.

About 16ha of Gerald oats off difficult land had disappointed. “But yields are always limited there,” he said.

“Mark Plewka, our foreman, took over on the combine and finished the spring barley and second wheats while I was busy bringing in the thatching straw.”

That operation, using a 35-year-old Howard big baler, went well with just two breakdowns.

Over 70mm (2.7in) of rain at the end of July/early August took its toll on the crop’s colour and some ears sprouted allowing the sheaves to grow together. But the good length straw was safely dry and under cover by 16 August. “It should still prove our most profitable crop per hectare by some margin,” said Mr Snell.

Nearly all his wheats were Alchemy for feed, with second crop output “reasonable” and first crops pushing to just over 10t/ha. But despite the recent good weather everything had had to be dried, moistures ranging from 15 to 17%.

Wizard winter beans had proved “exceptional”. “The 22ha we sowed on frost at the end of last year – the only time the ground would carry the tractor and drill – did 2.3t/acre at 16-17% moisture.”

Moisture clue to Kent results 

For Andy Barr in Kent, whose harvest ended on 18 August – his second earliest – this season was one of highs and lows driven largely by rainfall.

“Unbelievably, given the situation in other parts of the country, lack of moisture is the story of the year for us, both during grain filling and now.

“On the sandy land there simply wasn’t enough rain and yields were predictably disappointing. On the better land yields were actually better than we expected.

“In some fields you could see the wheat change colour from grey to gold as the combine went from low fertility sand into loam, and the yield meter would jump several tonnes a hectare.”

So his highs came mostly from crops on the better land, namely oilseed rape and spring barley. “We don’t have any fields that are really heavy.”

Winter barley and some of his wheat, including Cordiale, on sand were below his mean of about 9.5t/ha; but Viscount wheat surprised averaging only a shade below 10t/ha across one field of particularly variable soils. “In the higher dry areas it did only 7t/ha, but further downhill it was showing 11-12 on the meter.

“Halfway through the year when it was downgraded in quality I was feeling even dafter than usual having planted a reasonable acreage. Now I’m happy I did as it yielded very well – especially considering the soil and growing season. I’d hoped it might make 9t/ha.”

Tipple spring barley, hopefully for malting, was pleasing at 7.8t/ha. “But it hasn’t been tested yet and it’s not on contract.”

Dalguise winter oats on sand disappointed at just 7t/ha, but 10ha of Atego spring oats gave 7.8t/ha. “It had only two sprays – a herbicide and a fungicide/pgr, so it was low input and I’m well pleased.”

However, dry weather earlier in the week was hampering sowing.

“Our shallow cultivations are being severely hindered by bone dry, concrete hard soils.”